Environment Journal’s Excess Soils Symposium was a sold-out success thanks to our engaged and enthusiastic excess soils community. The seventh annual symposium was held on September 21, 2023 at the Toronto Region Board of Trade Conference Centre.
The symposium is the premier provincial forum to share knowledge and expertise on the latest development, perspectives, and regulations pertaining to managing excess soils in construction and cleanup projects across Canada, helping participants optimize their resource recovery and stay in compliance. This year, the Symposium had over 300 attendees including industry leaders, environmental experts, government representatives and various delegates from environmental organizations.
The Honourable Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, David Piccini, took to the symposium stage to provide welcome remarks and break news about imminent amendments to Ontario’s Regulation 406/19, The On-Site and Excess Soil Regulation.
“We’d like to ensure that the regulation can be more easily understood by all parties and more easily implemented and reduce the requirements of lower risk activities to achieve greater reuse of readily usable excess soils,” said Piccini.
The proposed amendments would address issues regarding low risk soil such as top soil and aggregates, salt impacted soils, to reduce regulation with regard to small projects such as landscape projects and to provide further clarifications where deemed necessary, such as for the role of Qualified Persons. The amendments will take effect January 1, 2024.
“To build a more sustainable future you have to bring industry with you,” said Piccini. “The commitment to our environment doesn’t mean driving jobs out of this province. It actually means creating more jobs. You are at the forefront of this, and I’m so excited about implementing more circular practices into our daily lives. This Excess Soils Symposium offers an incredible opportunity to help with this. So, I want to say thank you for challenging public policy. Politics is a two-way street and I look forward to your feedback.”
The opening keynote was presented by Freesia Waxman, a senior environmental engineer with Grounded Engineering. Waxman, a Qualified Person with the MECP under Ontario Regulation 153/04 and O.Reg. 406/19, delivered her keynote on “Unearthing the Future: Advancing Excess Soil Management for Sustainable Development”. Her remarks offered an examination of current regulations in Canada and globally, discussing challenges to be overcome by all levels of stakeholders and extrapolating the potential of new tools in revolutionizing soil management practices.
According to Waxman, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be used in several areas to create greater efficiency and accuracy, including the following:
- Smart Receiving Site Selection: AI-powered tools can optimize the process of identifying suitable receiving sites for excess soil. By considering various factors such as soil characteristics, proximity, capacity, environmental constraints, and scouring multiple reuse site databases, AI can streamline and expedite the selection process, maximizing the potential for beneficial reuse and minimizing transportation distances.
- Risk Assessment and Mitigation: AI models can integrate soil data with other environmental and geospatial information to conduct sophisticated risk assessments. By identifying potential risks and hotspots related to soil contamination, erosion, or ecological impacts, AI can help stakeholders develop targeted mitigation strategies and prioritize areas for remediation efforts.
- Real-time Monitoring and Compliance: For soil movements, tracking systems, and environmental data, AI could leverage machine learning algorithms, detect anomalies, identify non-compliance issues, and provide timely alerts, possibly to regulatory bodies, enhancing oversight and ensuring adherence to regulations.
- Data-driven Policy and Planning: By contributing to evidence-based decision-making and policy formulation through analysis of large-scale soil data sets, AI algorithms can identify patterns, correlations, and emerging trends, helping policymakers understand the dynamics of excess soil movement, assess the effectiveness of existing regulations, and inform the development of future policies and guidelines.
- Simulating and Modeling Potential Environmental Impacts: Soil movements, such as changes in water quality, habitat disruption, or carbon emissions could be aided by AI. By integrating soil data with environmental models, AI can provide insights into the long-term consequences of excess soil management decisions, aiding in the development of sustainable practices.
“The future of soil testing lies in the integration of traditional soil sampling techniques with AI-driven analysis. This combination promises to deliver unprecedented levels of accuracy and efficiency – but we’re not there yet,” emphasized Waxman.
“Imagine what we could accomplish if consultants, government, municipalities, developers, and constructors all worked in sync? That is where the magic happens. We’ve all felt it: it’s that energizing feeling when you are working on a project, and everything is clicking. If we can just get more of that level of communication, understanding, and cooperation, the impact could be massive.”
The luncheon keynote was provided by Jeff Goldman. The last time he graced our podium was in 2019, immediately after then Environment Minister Jeff Yurek informed the Symposium that the Excess Soil Regulation had been made into law. Through his experience as a land developer and as a founding investor of SoilFLO, Goldman has made significant contributions to improving the quality of excess soil management practices in Ontario. He shared his unique perspectives on how the industry has evolved and the challenges ahead with his keynote on the “Legends, Adventures and Misadventures in Excess Soils.”
“In talking about excess soil and looking at what has transpired over this period of time, I am astounded by the commitment of so many people to improve the system and bring about better outcomes. For many years, I advocated and spoke about the need for better soil management practice and that’s given me a unique vantage point as a witness to the evolution, and revolution, in our industry,” said Goldman. “However, to paraphrase the poet Robert Frost, ‘We still have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep.'”
Goldman pointed out there is much work to be done on the road to fully evolve excess soils management practices and the success of the resource recovery system.
According to Goldman, Ontario’s Excess Soil Registry appears to be highly underused by industry participants notwithstanding their regulatory requirement to do so. It is estimated that far fewer than 50 per cent of projects that would require such registration are recorded on the Registry.
Goldman reports “growing frustration among industry stakeholders including project owners and their consultants who are following the dictates of the Regulation with those that have either not paid attention to their responsibility for compliance or those that flaunt the rules.”
“There have been countless initiatives to educate industry players and as such, there is a growing sentiment that some, both in private industry and the municipal sector, have willfully chosen to ignore compliance as there has not been any prospect of being penalized for such behavior,” points out Goldman.
Given the large sector of the industry that still appears to have its head in the sand (pun intended) regarding the upcoming prohibition on the acceptance of many soils at landfills (as of January 1, 2025), there is concern about a pending crisis for receiving sites that may occur at that time, pointed out Goldman.
“If there is not proactive action taken now to permit other facilities, the costs for proper soil disposition may increase significantly. Escalating costs for proper soil disposition could lead to increased incidents of illegal and harmful dumping,” he stated.
Special thanks to our sponsors who made the symposium possible: SoilFLO, United Soils, Astro Excavating, GFL Environmental, WSP, Orin/RONI Group, the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association (OSWCA), Lafarge, Stantec, and Matrix Solutions Inc.
The dual track symposium covered much ground. In the coming weeks we’ll dig into the highlights on the dynamic panel discussions and technical presentations provided at the event.
Enjoy the event gallery and video: