August 18, 2006
Hitting pay dirt with brownfields
Brownfields are “hot, hot, hot,” a panel of speakers agreed Tuesday. And although much progress has been made in smoothing the path for redevelopment of brownfield sites, there is still work to be done.
Brantford city councillor Marguerite Ceschi-Smith said brownfields are a municipal issue “since we’re the ones who live with them.” They can sometimes be threats to public safety and a form of urban blight, she said.
Still, she expressed frustration by “the lack of political will” on the part of federal and provincial governments to become more involved in the funding processes necessary for successful brownfield redevelopment.
She made her comments during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), a body which has lobbied for more federal and provincial assistance, including regulatory assistance, in redevelopment.
Many of the AMO’s recommendations have been met, and more have been partially met, she said.
But there still needs to be changes to limit liability — for the municipality, and for current and past property owners.
Ceschi-Smith said the government should become a world leader in toxicological research “to update current science, technology (and) provide advice in the treatment of contaminated soils and water.”
An AMO report notes that “the current predominant practice of dig and dump must be replaced by more sustainable, cost-effective solutions.”
Mitchell Fasken, of Kimshaw Holdings Ltd., of Toronto, distributed a paper by the National Brownfield Association of Canada, in which the association notes that “classification of soil as waste for reuse on- and off-site remains unclear.”
As for the practice of dig and dump, “the objective should be to promote the reuse and recycling of soil as opposed to disposal,” although there is presently no incentive to recycle soils on-site to reduce unnecessary landfilling.
Fasken is a brownfields developer and he outlined a number of factors developers look for.
First, he said, one needs to find “engaged municipalities and regions.” Then there must be clear rules and regulations, and a record of consistency in applying them.
Most important, he added, there must be a means to manage liability and risk.
He suggested the creation of an insurance fund or something similar to limit the time a party can be sued for off-site impacts of the redevelopment.
He also would like to see limits to the things that can be covered by regulatory orders.
Apart from liability issues, Fasken said, the industry needs the provincial government “to step in with a financing tool in the form of a fund to mitigate clean-up costs.”
The province should also give municipalities more ability to use TIFs, or tax-incentive funding, and amend the municipal tax structure to accommodate this.
Brownfields remediation is getting more and more complex, he said, as the simpler jobs are completed.
The more challenging jobs are those where, for example, there is no real certainty about the source of contamination.
Industry now is using so many chemicals that contamination is getting worse, he said, which points to the need for careful management of liability and risk.
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