Dirt dumping under the microscope in Ramara
Carmela Marshall, of the Ontario Soil Regulation Task Force, addresses Ramara Township council
Council will review fill bylaw: Clarke
by Frank Matys Orillia Today
A proposal to establish a shooting range on a private property in Ramara Township is emerging as a flash point for concerns over soil dumping in the rural municipality.
Residents say the township is ignoring its own bylaw by allowing large-scale dumping while failing to ensure adequate protections for the environment.
“This is about protecting our environment for future generations,” said Mike Douglas, a member of Concerned Citizens of Ramara.
At the centre of the debate is a Concession 5 property where, under a previous owner, residents say an unknown but significant volume of fill was dumped for the purpose of building a berm.
The owner secured an exemption from the township’s fill bylaw by developing a site plan and applying to build a pole barn that never materialized, they say.
The property has since changed hands and is now owned by a numbered company identified as Ramara Sports Ltd.
Residents are urging the township to ensure accurate accounting and testing of the fill already dumped at the site.
The group is also calling for hydrology reports to determine the impact of the soil on waterways, aquifers and recharge zones at the site — one of what they say are five known properties in the township accepting large-scale soil dumps.
Dave Wellman, the township’s chief building official, said that soil “imported” to private properties is tested by an accredited laboratory before it leaves its site of origin under a process regulated by Ontario’s environment ministry.
Soil placed at the Conc. 5 property was of an agricultural grade, he said.
The former owner received an exemption from the fill bylaw by virtue of having a site plan and building permit, Wellman added.
“We still ensured that the soils that were coming in were clean,” he said, adding a shooting range requires “significant berms in order to construct it in accordance with the rules.”
The new owner is pursuing a shooting range but has changed the plan considerably, Wellman added.
As a result, “they will be subject to the fill bylaw because they don’t have any applications for a building permit, nor do they even have a site plan,” he said, adding the new owner has not brought in any fill.
Speaking to concerns about soil dumping in the township, Wellman said the township has “all the documentation on every truckload … that comes in, that it is certified as clean soil.”
However, a representative of the Ontario Soil Regulation Task Force this week offered a cautionary note during a presentation focusing on measures municipalities can take to protect against dumping of contaminated soil in their communities, including random and frequent sampling of incoming fill.
Testing that is undertaken prior to shipping to local properties may be inadequate due to a small sample size, she warned.
“Just because soil is coming from a soil remediation facility that has a compliance approval issued by the (environment ministry), does not mean that the municipality should then assume that there is no issue, or that no further attention should be given to the soils,” said Carmela Marshall, a director and senior researcher.
A soil remediation facility, previously involved as the major supplier to other Ontario sites that were later found to have contamination issues also supplied fill to the Ramara property, she said.
“You can have a wonderful bylaw, but it’s not worth the paper it is written on unless the municipality is doing enforcement and compliance monitoring,” she added.
Deputy mayor John O’Donnell voiced concern over the prospect of contaminated soil arriving at any site in Rama.
“If it’s contaminated soil that’s brought in here and you do find it in your wells, it’s too late to do anything about it,” he said.
Council will review the township’s fill bylaw during its next committee of the whole meeting. “At that time we may want to redo it or tweak it,” said Mayor Basil Clarke.
Limiting the amount of fill brought in, regardless of a property owner holding a building permit, is one likely option for consideration, Clarke said.
“We want to make sure the soil is clean that is coming in,” he added.
Soil dumping and the potential for contamination is a cause here and elsewhere, said Sandy Agnew, vice-chair of AWARE Simcoe, a citizens’ group that works for transparency in government and protection of water, health and the environment.
“It is a wide-ranging issue, not just in Simcoe County,” Agnew said. “It’s east of (Toronto), west of the city — everywhere people are trying to make a quick buck by taking all of this excess fill from the city.”
Large-scale dumping also has the potential to cover over valuable farmland, he said.
“In many cases there is no cover planted on top, so it rains and washes down into the creeks,” Agnew said. “And it can contaminate the groundwater as well if it’s got chemicals in it.”