What is Alberta Municipalities doing to address brownfields
Brownfields are not a new issue and neither is Alberta Municipalities' advocacy for a modernized framework and process for redevelopment. While some steps have been taken to reduce risk of future brownfields, the legacy of contamination has far reaching economic and environmental implications. For a number of years, Alberta Municipalities has been advocating for the need to address brownfield sites.
In response, Environment and Parks established a working group in 2011 to identify required actions. Alberta Municipalities participated on this working group along with Municipal Affairs, the Cities of Edmonton and Calgary, the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC), The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), and industry stakeholders such as the Canadian Fuels Association and the Urban Development Institute. The group’s final report, which included recommendations relating to financial tools, liability closure and educational programs, were submitted to responsible Ministers in April 2012.
As there has been limited action from the province on the recommendations, Alberta Municipalities has been persistent in our advocacy efforts. For example we have featured the need for action in our MLA Newsletter, and in meetings with MLAs and cabinet ministers. We have partnered with the AAMDC and Canadian Fuels Association to send letters urging the province to take action. As well, Alberta Municipalities undertook a Brownfield Impact Assessment in 2014, to obtain further details from our members about the barriers to redevelopment. The results were shared with the province to highlight the impacts of brownfields on communities.
Timeline of Alberta Municipalities’ Brownfield advocacy
Tank Site Remediation Program is launched. Over the next 13 years, the program provides $91 million to municipalities and owners of small gas stations to clean up contamination from underground petroleum tanks at 1150 sites. Of those, 786 sites are remediated as of June 30, 2013, while the remaining sites have ongoing contamination issues. While the program provided an excellent first step in addressing the issue, funding has run out and hundreds of sites still require remediation. Alberta Municipalities called on the province to provide additional funding for the program.
Alberta Municipalities members pass a motion during Mayors’ Caucus to advocate that the province develop a brownfield redevelopment strategy.
In response to Alberta Municipalities advocacy, the province establishes a working group in May 2011 to identify required actions to facilitate the redevelopment of brownfield sites, particularly where market barriers currently discourage activity. Alberta Municipalities participates on this working group along with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD), Municipal Affairs, Edmonton, Calgary, AAMDC, FCM, and industry stakeholders (e.g. the Canadian Fuels Association and Urban Development Institute).
After a year of intense work, the Brownfield Redevelopment Working Group delivers consensus recommendations to the province providing a broad range of solutions including legislative changes, financial incentives, certification requirements, educational initiatives and administrative processes that enable flexible, stackable tools for addressing the primary barriers to redevelopment. A summary of the recommendations is as follows:
- Recommendation 1: Provide a grant to offset the costs for a Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment, providing accurate information on site condition and incenting brownfield redevelopment.
- Recommendation 2: Provide a grant to offset the costs for preparing a remedial or risk management plan to further reduce the uncertainty relating to remediation time frames and costs.
- Recommendation 3: Provide a grant to offset the costs for conducting remediation where the economics of the development are either marginal or slightly negative.
- Recommendation 4: Modify the current Remediation Certificate Program to cover an entire site as opposed to only the area associated with a spill event in order to extend closure of regulatory liability to the entire site.
- Recommendation 5: Create a No Further Action Required Certificate specifically to issue for an entire brownfield sites certifying that no remediation is required.
- Recommendation 6: Clarify the process for the acceptance and use of risk management plans with respect to brownfield sites to define regulatory liability and to ensure that the plans will continue with land transfers.
- Recommendation 7: Adjust the Municipal Government Act to allow a Municipal Council to provide property tax cancellations, deferrals or reductions for multiple years.
- Recommendation 8: Use the Community Revitalization Levy to offset the costs of remediation as well as the costs of infrastructure.
- Recommendation 9: Establish a new program to facilitate municipal level incentives for redevelopment of smaller brownfield sites where use of a Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) is not warranted.
- Recommendation 10: Reduction or forgiveness of fees relating to processing of rezoning applications, development permits or building permits to help offset higher redevelopment costs at brownfield sites.
- Recommendation 11: Establish a Provincial Brownfield Coordinator Office, led by a Brownfield Coordinator, to lead the implementation of the proposed Alberta Brownfield Strategy outlined in this report.
- Recommendation 12: Develop and implement a province wide education program for stakeholders on the remediation certificate program and the brownfield redevelopment process specifically.
- Recommendation 13: Require registration of brownfield sites in a publicly accessible Environmental Information Registry.
- Recommendation 14: Allow registration of risk management plans on Land Titles.
Although the recommendations are complementary and taken together will create a comprehensive strategy to promote redevelopment, the recommendations are independent and largely able to be implemented on their own should not all the recommendations be accepted by government.
Alberta Municipalities is diligent in advocating for release of the report and implementation of its recommendations. Advocacy efforts include release of an MLA newsletter detailing how brownfields jeopardize the economy and environment and providing details on initiatives in British Columbia and Nova Scotia that Alberta could readily adapt to provide liability closure on many brownfield sites.
Alberta Municipalities continues its advocacy efforts and reaches out the Canadian Fuels Association (CFA) in order to pursue joint advocacy and opportunities to facilitate improved communication between municipalities and CFA member companies which own many brownfield sites. During a webinar co-hosted with the CFA to discuss opportunities for municipal-industry collaboration on redevelopment, Alberta Municipalities launches a Brownfield Impact Template to provide municipalities with an opportunity to share the extent and consequences of brownfields in their communities.
In response to pressure from Alberta Municipalities and other working group members, the Brownfield Redevelopment Working Group’s report is finally posted on the province’s website in the summer. The province also indicates it is looking into opportunities to update its Remediation Certificate Program to align with best practices in other provinces.
By November almost 50 municipalities provide input to Alberta Municipalities' Brownfield Impact Assessment. Results of the assessment are shared with the province and the CFA to illustrate the consequences of inaction and urge collaboration in immediately moving forward with brownfield redevelopment initiatives.
In response to the Impact Assessment, the Minister of ESRD provides Alberta Municipalities with an update on the province’s progress with respect to some of the Brownfield Redevelopment Working Group’s recommendations.
- ESRD may reconvene the working group to assist with the review of the Remediation Certificate Regulation to explore whether it can be amended to allow for site-based remediation certificates and no further action certificates. Industry and municipalities indicate that liability is the biggest barrier to brownfield redevelopment. The proposed certificate programs would provide closure respecting liability for entire sites against a future change in remediation standards. Alberta Municipalities has offered to host working group meetings and co-host webinars to facilitate broader input on the programs.
- The province appreciates the need to make information on brownfield sites more publicly accessible but is concerned that the inclusion on land titles, as suggested by the working group, may not be the best solution. Instead the province is exploring options to create a stand-alone registry for contaminated sites that will be managed by Environment and Parks with technical support from Service Alberta. Alberta Municipalities has requested that abandoned wells also be considered as part of this registry.
- Another significant barrier to redevelopment identified by municipalities is the high cost of remediation and redevelopment in comparison to the value of many brownfield properties. The working group’s recommendations on property tax alteration (cancellations, deferrals or reductions for multiple years) are being considered as part of the Municipal Government Act review. In addition, redevelopment of municipal brownfield sites has been added to the definition of eligible project costs under the Municipal Sustainability Initiative.
Progress on these items is stalled due in part to the election. Therefore, in September Alberta Municipalities and AAMDC send a joint letter to the Minister of Environment and Parks calling for action. In November the Canadian Fuels Association (CFA) also sends a letter to the Minister supporting our call for action. In response the Minister of Environment and Parks indicates that recommendations from the Brownfield Redevelopment Working Group relating to property taxes and brownfield sites are being considered as part of the Municipal Government Act review. The Minister also re-committed to consulting our associations on the Review of Remediation Certificate Regulations, which provides the opportunity to implement recommendations to improve the remediation certificate program and find ways to create a public registry of brownfield sites.
Alberta Municipalities hosts a session at our Spring Mayors’ Caucus featuring an update from the province indicating that while the province remains committed to engaging municipalities in reviewing the Remediation Certificate Regulations, the timing is still unclear. In follow-up Alberta Municipalities sends letters to the Minister of Environment and Parks and Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for the legislation, urging them to extend the regulations for no more than a year and requesting a meeting between the Minister and the Presidents of Alberta Municipalities and AAMDC to discuss next steps.
The province responds to Alberta Municipalities' advocacy on the Municipal Government Act review by passing changes that will enable municipalities to grant property tax incentives over multiple years. Alberta Municipalities had strongly advocated the need for this change, which will allow councils to pass bylaws that allow multi-year tax cancellations, reductions, or deferrals on brownfield properties.
As part of the Brownfield Working Group, Alberta Municipalities has asked the province to establish a No Further Action Certificates (NFAC) that can be issued for sites where regulatory standards have been met, but the site does not require remediation. NFACs provide liability closure based on current site conditions and standards for a specific land use (e.g. residential versus industrial). In response, as part of the new Remediation Regulation for 2019, the province created a document called a Tier 2 Compliance Letter. The Tier 2 compliance letter accounts for site-specific conditions where human health and the environment are protected, but no remediation would be required. This is a positive step; however, the Tier 2 compliance letter is solely a creation of the Remediation Regulation and is not grounded in section 117 of the enabling statute, EPEA, which provides certain statutory guarantees. As a result, an area that is the subject of a Tier 2 compliance letter does not enjoy the same protections as a Remediation Certificate and further regulatory action could be required at a later date.
The Government of Alberta introduced Bill 7 to allow municipalities the freedom to offer tax incentives of up to 15 years to draw new investment and jobs into the province. Bill 7 proposes to expand provisions in Alberta’s Municipal Government Act (MGA) to enable municipalities to offer multi-year property tax exemptions for non-residential properties. Such provisions are being implemented to help develop brownfields in Medicine Hat, which may serve as a model.