Ontario streamlining environmental assessment process for infrastructure projects

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

The Province of Ontario says streamlining and simplifying the 50-year-old environmental assessment (EA) process will speed up infrastructure projects, including Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass.

With a plan to spend about $98 billion over the next 10 years to build new roads, highways and public transit, the province is making changes aimed at getting shovels in the ground sooner.

The EA process is moving to a project list approach, which will list the types of infrastructure projects that still require the highest level of environmental assessment such as large landfills and electricity generation facilities.

The project list approach is a shift from the previous focus on project proponents to what the project is and its potential for environmental effects. Using a project list approach will bring Ontario in line with other similar jurisdictions, including the federal government, Quebec and British Columbia.

The Ontario government is also launching consultation on a new streamlined process for certain municipal water, shoreline and sewage system projects. This new process would help accelerate project planning by limiting the process to six months from 18 months or more. These time changes could be achieved by providing a regulated timeline, whereas under the current process there is no time limit.

“As Ontario grows at record speed, it’s never been more important to build new roads, highways, public transit and homes, so we can get drivers out of bumper-to-bumper traffic and bring the dream of home ownership into reach for more people,” said Andrea Khanjin, minister of the environment, conservation and parks. “Our government is supporting municipal partners by streamlining and simplifying complex environmental assessment processes to get shovels in the ground and finish major projects faster.

“We’re doing so while protecting strong environmental oversight and ensuring meaningful consultations before projects can move forward.”

Changes, which come into effect tomorrow (Feb. 22), allow projects to follow a streamlined EA process that will save time and money while maintaining environmental safeguards. Requirements to identify and mitigate environmental impacts and for consultation will continue, including Indigenous consultation, prior to implementation.

AndreaFor example, the comprehensive EA process for the East-West Tie Transmission Project that runs from Wawa to Lakehead in Northern Ontario took more than five years to complete. The government says, with these changes, a similar project could follow a streamlined process and be completed within two years, while still undergoing a mandatory consultation process and continued strong environmental oversight. Some of the time savings are a result of the streamlined processes not requiring a Terms of Reference for the project, which can take up to two years, as the streamlined process already sets out the requirements.

“By streamlining building approval processes, we can get shovels in the ground faster and deliver on our historic infrastructure investments to get cars and trains moving,” said Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria.

An example of a municipal project that would be able to go through this proposed process is building a new large wastewater treatment plant. To build this, the municipal class EA process can take up to two years or more. The proposed process could see the EA process completed in as little as six months.

“Modernizing Environmental Assessments for municipal infrastructure will help reduce the duplication of approvals necessary for the installation of low-risk infrastructure that is a required part of new housing developments,” explained Steven Crombie, director of government relations and public relations at the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association. “Streamlining this approvals process will save time and resources for individuals, businesses, and government agencies without compromising any environmental outcomes. By simplifying regulations and reducing administrative burdens, Ontario is making it easier for businesses to operate and invest in growth.”

The government is also considering a minor change to the Environmental Assessment Act that would make it clearer for municipalities, provincial ministries and agencies that expropriation is one of the ways property can be acquired for a project before the EA process is completed.

This measure is part of the upcoming Get It Done Act, that will kick off the spring sitting of the legislature yesterday (Feb. 20). The act, if passed, would make it faster to build and easier to save money.

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