How to Manage Soil From Greenfields Under Ontario’s O. Reg. 406/19
September 23, 2020

“Greenfields” – typically agricultural properties being developed – may be subject to fewer rules and regulations than properties that may have been impacted by previous commercial or industrial use. Still, there are rules that do need to be followed and opportunities to maximize revenue that should not be missed.

This is very much the case under Ontario Regulation 406/19. Fewer rules apply to Ontario’s Greenfields than their potentially impacted cousins (e.g., “Brownfields”). However, there are good reasons to incorporate some, or all, of the planning steps outlined in the Regulation.

What if unexpected contaminants are found on site?

The planning exemptions for agricultural sites do not apply if a portion of the Project Area is known to be affected by the discharge of a contaminant. Wise due-diligence calls for investigating the property to check for historic uses including industrial-scale farming, bulk fuel storage or “informal” waste deposits which may have come from offsite sources.

A review of current and historical records (i.e., an Assessment of Past Uses) will help your Qualified Person (QP) determine the potential for any possible contaminating activities on the site.

  • Action step: Review the historical operations for the Project Area (including historical aerial photographs), and interview site owners and operators.
  • Benefit: This will help reduce the potential for “surprises” later in the process, either during sampling and analysis or after transport and placement of the material at the Reuse Site(s) or disposal site(s). If there is no indication of potential contamination, further sampling and analysis may not be necessary.
  • Checkpoint: Have potential beneficial Reuse Sites been identified? The characteristics of the Reuse Site(s) will help determine what Excess Soil Quality Standards will apply.

“Greenfield” soil is a revenue source to maximize

The Excess Soil from many sites, particularly Brownfields, may come with problems attached. It may be highly variable in environmental quality or require treatment before it is suitable for reuse. Soil from Greenfield sites, by contrast, is more like the most popular student in high school – everyone wants to be their friend.

You need to maximize the value of your Excess Soil. To do this, start by demonstrating that the soil you have to offer really is “problem-free.” In some instances, an Assessment of Past Uses may be all you need to achieve this goal. However, don’t forget that the physical properties of the soil will also dictate how it can be reused.

In cases where sampling is required, a well-executed soil sampling program (i.e., Sampling and Analysis Plan) should characterize both the chemical and physical characteristics of the Excess Soil, to identify beneficial reuses of the material (including its suitability for use as engineered fill). If sampling is conducted, the quality of the Excess Soil will likely need to be documented in a manner acceptable to the Reuse Site(s) before they agree to import the soil (e.g., through a Soil Characterization Report).

  • Action step: For a Greenfield site, where required, it is generally recommended that sampling be carried out primarily in-situ (i.e., prior to excavation) and that it assesses both the environmental and geotechnical characteristics of the soil.
  • Benefit: By completing a robust sampling program before construction, potential Reuse Sites can be identified much earlier in the process. Recognizing, in advance, that suitable Reuse Site(s) may have considerations other than just the environmental quality of the soil, should help prevent delays in gaining the Reuse Sites’ acceptance of the material.
  • Checkpoint: Were any impacts to soil quality identified during sampling that were not previously anticipated? Does the quality of the excess soil meet the specific criteria for each of the proposed Reuse Site(s) or disposal site(s)? Were any impacts inferred to be naturally occurring?

Understanding a Key Stakeholder in your project – The Reuse Site

Before the Reuse Site agrees to accept your Excess Soil, you will need to document that the material meets the specific requirements of the Reuse Site (e.g., through an Excess Soil Destination Assessment Report). Starting this planning exercise earlier in your project may help get earlier commitments from potential sites to accept the material.

  • Action step: Identify potential Reuse Sites early in the planning process. Recognize that the Reuse Site will likely be interested in both the environmental and geotechnical quality of the material.
  • Benefit: Demonstrating your understanding of what the technical requirements are for each potential Reuse Site will help identify potential “data gaps” early on and reduce the potential for project delays.
  • Checkpoint: Has any information changed (e.g., regarding soil quality or quantity) since the Reuse Site(s) agreed to take the excess material?

Document the transport and delivery of your Excess Soil

Implementation of a formal tracking system may not be required (under O.Reg. 406/19) for many greenfield development projects. However, to provide assurances to both the Project Leader, and the owner of the Reuse Site, that only approved soils are being received at their property, implementing a tracking and documentation system is also recommended.

  • Action step: Identify an appropriate tracking system that is suitable for the volume of soil involved.
  • Benefit: Documented receipt of the approved soils by the Reuse Site, helps to resolve challenges (if any) from regulators.
  • Checkpoint: Is the tracking system suitable for the complexity of your project? Do staff or contractors need training?

Protecting yourself from future liability

The acceptance of Excess Soil by the owner of a Reuse Site, does not, on its own, absolve the Project Leader of all future liability regarding the quality of the soil. By incorporating the steps described herein, and in the Soil Rules, into your planning process, you can help limit your future liability with clear documentation that the Excess Soil was clean and suitable for the agreed-upon beneficial reuse at the time it was brought to the Reuse Site.

Carl Schroeder Member Name

Senior Environmental Engineer


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Carl Schroeder (M.A.Sc., P.Eng.) is a professional engineer in Ontario with over twenty (20) years of experience as an environmental consultant with Golder. Carl is a Qualified Person under Ontario Regulation 153/04 and has assisted numerous clients with Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) and site remediation for general due diligence and in support of Record of Site Conditions in this role. As a generalist environmental engineer, over the course of his career Carl has undertaken or managed hundreds of environmental projects for large and small clients, including the provision of strategic, regulatory and practical advice to clients on managing their environmental risk relating to property transactions, management of excess soil material, demolition, decommissioning and infrastructure (culvert) management.