November 12, 2007

Manitoba to tighten landfill licensing regime, improve assessment and cleanup of contaminated sites

Manitoba Conservation Minister Stan Struthers has promised that the government will ensure more stringent management of landfills, including proper permitting and licensing, in the wake of a report from the provincial auditor general on Manitoba Conservation's management of contaminated sites and landfills.

"We agree with the auditor's position that large landfills that have permits, which have been grandfathered since 1991, need review and licensing," said Struthers. "We will move forward with the recommendations to license landfills and to ensure proper remediation, monitoring and assessment of contaminated sites."

The audit report is a follow-up to a previous review of the government's management of contaminated sites. Since the release of that report in 2005, the auditor general acknowledges that the province has made progress in addressing many of its recommendations.

Among other things, the Manitoba government has: increased staff and created an inter-departmental committee to focus on environmental assessment and remediation of contaminated sites; found and recorded $162 million in environmental liabilities and developed a new, separate process to detect and track government-owned sites; regularly reviewed the status of orphaned and abandoned mines to ensure the timely update of information and ensure remediation plans are in place; and amended the Dangerous Goods Handling and Transportation Act to reinforces the "polluter pays" principle by improving departmental cost-recovery options.

The latest auditor general's report, however, is broader in scope, addressing the management of contaminated sites and landfills owned and operated by Crown corporations, government business enterprises, school divisions and municipalities (not just government departments, as in the 2005 audit). It makes 55 recommendations to help strengthen management of contaminated sites and landfills by all of these "entities," as they are termed in the report.

In general, this year's audit found that:

*government entities and municipalities (especially those with properties that had been exposed to contaminants) did not have adequate policies and procedures in place for the management of contaminated sites.

*Manitoba Conservation lacked sufficient monitoring procedures to ensure compliance by industry, municipalities and entities. Specifically, the department did not classify and summarize contaminated sites according to risk, nor did it adequately monitor all those contaminated sites that were listed.

*Manitoba Conservation's landfill management procedures did not ensure compliance with legislation by landfill owners and operators, and the department's monitoring of landfills was inadequate.

The audit further found that landfill licensing requirements were not consistent for landfills posing similar risks. In particular, the report singles out the province's largest landfill, Brady Road (operated by the city of Winnipeg), which has been operating under a permit unaltered since it was issued in 1993. Other landfills serving populations over 5,000 have been operating under more stringent licences, it notes.

Manitoba's Municipal Act requires municipalities to comply with public sector accounting standards. The report found, however, that municipalities were not consistently reporting potential environmental liabilities associated with landfills in their financial statements, and most municipalities did not report and/or disclose liabilities for landfill closure and post-closure costs.

As a result of these and other findings, the auditor general has recommended that:

*entities and municipalities with contaminated sites assign personnel to be responsible for issues relating to these sites (with responsibilities including listing and risk assessment, development of remediation plans, monitoring of contaminated sites, database management and quantification of environmental liabilities for financial reporting);

*environmental site assessments be conducted by qualified professionals on all properties that have been exposed to contaminants, and that these assessments be used as the basis for establishing remediation priorities;

*entities and municipalities develop a reporting protocol to ensure that Manitoba Conservation is notified regarding all sites that have been exposed to contaminants;

*Manitoba Conservation obtain and approve remedial action plans (RAPs) for all sites requiring cleanup, and that the department ensure that remediation is carried out in accordance with approved RAPs;

*the provincial waste disposal grounds regulation be reviewed, with consideration given to adding provisions setting expiry dates for licences and permits, requiring formal applications for renewal of licences and permits, stipulating monitoring requirements during operation, and mandating regular review of the regulation and amendment as needed;

*Manitoba Conservation develop and formally approve policy and procedures for permitting landfills, and establish a policy for ranking landfills based on thorough risk assessments;

*an amendment to the waste disposal grounds regulation be considered requiring all Class 1 landfills to operate under similar conditions and requirements (including licensing requirements), with conditions and restrictions for each landfill to be based on the risks associated with it;

*landfill permits include conditions to address the specific environmental risks associated with the individual landfill;

*priorities be established for monitoring and remediation of landfills, with those sites posing a high environmental risk flagged for early attention; and

*Manitoba Conservation monitor landfills to ensure compliance with legislation and with permit/licence conditions.

In response to the report's recommendations, Struthers outlined a multi-step plan The plan includes the following actions:

*hiring a solid waste manager to lead environmental assessment efforts of landfills;

*committing to legislative review of landfills;

*working with municipalities and government bodies to ensure they are properly tracking and accounting for their liabilities;

*continuing to improve record-keeping and tracking of contaminated sites and landfills;

*working with the city of Winnipeg to implement a methane-capture program at Winnipeg's Brady landfill; and

*ensuring review and licensing for large landfills, including the Brady landfill. In 1991, legislative provisions allowed these sites to be grandfathered into the Environment Act without having to go through a licensing process. The Brady landfill received another permit in 1993 with no expiry date, and no licensing process under the Environment Act. The province will work with the city of Winnipeg to ensure Brady landfill is licensed with a proper public review within the next year.

The province has closed at least 70 waste disposal grounds since 1999 and requires licensing for all new landfills. As well, a prohibition on open burning is strictly enforced.

In a separate report, Manitoba's auditor general also presented findings on a 2005 audit of Manitoba Conservation's management of the environmental livestock program and provided 40 recommendations to help strengthen the program.

In accepting this report, Conservation Minister Struthers said, "By providing a 2005 snapshot of how nutrients in manure were regulated in Manitoba, the auditor general has given us an important tool in improving the environmental sustainability of the livestock industry. We believe this report also confirms we are on the right track when it comes to improving regulations and providing additional resources to help livestock producers develop sustainable environmental practices."

The report said Manitoba has some of the most comprehensive legislation in the country to protect surface and groundwater from the impact of livestock operations. The province's livestock manure and mortalities management regulation under the Environment Act, it added, is only one tool in a cross-government approach to promote an environmentally sustainable industry. Since 1998, the government has increased number of dedicated livestock inspectors to 15 from two part-time staff.

Responding to this report, Struthers outlined an action plan to address recommendations relating to the permitting of manure storage facilities. Specific measures will include:

*immediately hiring an eight-person, cross-departmental team to augment existing staff to assist with assessment and *permit issues;

*conducting more focused, risk-based inspections of producers not following best practices and providing appropriate follow-up in instances where they are not following the regulation;

*ensuring that Manitoba Conservation engineers as well as environmental staff inspect manure storage sites before a permit is granted;

*amending the regulation to ensure there is a minimum storage capacity for manure storage; and

*formalizing, through a written Manitoba Water Stewardship policy document, improved cross-departmental communication protocols implemented since 2005.

The minister also accepted the balance of the report's recommendations and has sent them to Manitoba's Clean Environment Commission, which is currently conducting a review of the province's water protection plan and the long-term sustainability of the hog industry.

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