Burlington Airpark: Court date set; MOE to city – no to stop work, use own bylaws

Photo showing height of landfilling at airport.

Photo showing height of landfilling at airport.

A hearing date to determine the City of Burlington’s right to regulate landfilling operations at the Burlington Executive Airport on Bell School Line has been set for Oct. 4 in Milton Superior Court. The hearing will determine whether the city has jurisdiction to regulate fill operations through its site alteration bylaw.

Until then, an agreement has been reached between the city and the airport to temporarily stop fill operations on the site until the jurisdictional issues are settled. The airport will not bring any fill onto its land other than gravel and pavement grindings for a runway base (not to be mixed with any other fill) and asphalt for paving to allow completion of the work being done to widen a runway and taxiways.

City seeks Ministry stop work order, groundwater testing

The city has also asked the Ministry of the Environment to issue a stop work order and groundwater testing, after a review by Terrapex Environmental revealed that the existing fill material does not meet minimum standards.

Fill fails standards

Terrapex concluded that less than half (41%) of the samples analyzed met applicable standards (provincial Table 1 Site Condition Standards). Material that doesn’t meet standards is considered waste, so deposit of this material constitutes the establishment of an unlicensed waste disposal site at the airport, states Terrapex. That may have ramifications for not only the receiver of the fill, but also the various shippers and haulers of the waste.

The city notified the MOE in a July 11 letter that the airpark is not in compliance with ministry regulations and is operating an unlicensed landfill site, and requested the MOE step in.

MOE to city: no stop work, use own bylaws

The Ministry has responded to this request, suggesting the fill does not constitute waste, as the regulations apply to brownfield sites which the airport isn’t, and that the city should use its own bylaws to regulate the fill operations. The letter notes that the city and Conservation Halton “have the authority to develop bylaws and issue permits for fill placement.”

Regarding the groundwater issue, the MOE letter notes that the airport has agreed to submit a plan to the ministry for testing groundwater and assessing whether there have been off-site impacts. “If there is reason to believe that the filling activities may result in offsite impacts, the ministry will take action, as necessary, to ensure the protection of the natural environment,” states the MOE’s response to the city.

Terrapex: regulations apply; MOE must act

Terrapex has responded to the MOE letter, confirming their view that the provincial regulations are are not limited simply to quality of fill on brownfields, but are “industry standard” for evaluation for soil, ground water, and sediment quality in Ontario, especially in lieu of any other suitable provincial or federal regulation.

They further note that the MOE’s own Soil Management – A Guide for Best Management Practices cites the provincial regulations used to evaluate the airport fill. Finally, they note that any contaminated fill is indeed considered “waste” under ministry standards. As such, Terrapex stands by their assessment that the airport is an unlicensed waste disposal facility “on the basis that it has accepted contaminated soil.”

Documents publicly available

All these documents are publicly available on the city’s website on a special page devoted to the airpark, which includes background, updates, reports and letters.

City staff provides regular updates to the Community Development Committee on the airport, and in their update at the next meeting Sept. 9 will speak to the MOE’s response and next steps.

My Take: The MOE response on the fill issue is extremely disappointing, and essentially treats this serious environmental matter as a jurisdictional hot potato. We must continue to press the MOE to use their own jurisdiction and regulations to act, in addition to steps being taken by the city, Halton Region, Conservation Halton and other agencies. All agencies and levels of government must work together for the protection of our rural lands and the residents who live there. Everyone has a role to play here.

The fill operations and any substantial expansion of the airport are detrimental to the rural area, and don’t confirm to provincial, city or regional Official Plans or regulations for our agricultural and greenbelt lands.

Municipalities across the country are struggling with these same issues of landfilling and expansion at airports. As such, the results of the Burlington case will have national impact. We have an opportunity to bring some clarity and protection for residents and rural communities across the country on these matters.

I want to commend city staff who are taking this issue very seriously, working hard behind the scenes to advocate on behalf of residents, and seeking the commitment of all levels of government to work together to protect our rural communities. I also want to thank my council colleagues, particularly Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor, for taking action to resolve these matters.