We need tougher dirt dumping regulations — now, Hamilton tells province

Rural Flamborough is still struggling with hundreds of loads of fill. Some are legal. Others are not. But the city hopes new provincial regulations in the works will at least help.

Trucks full of fill arrive in Flamborough by the hundreds each year, and some brokers make $20K a week

Trucks carrying fill from GTHA construction projects trail dirt and damage roads in Flamborough, says Coun. Rob Pasuta. The city has been battling the fill issue for years, and hopes new provincial regulations will make at least some difference. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It's not quite the answer to Flamborough's dirt woes, but it will help.

The province is establishing new rules to keep potentially toxic dirt from being dumped around rural Ontario, and Hamilton is taking part.

Rural Flamborough and Glanbrook have battled for years with hundreds of trucks full of dirt — much of it dug up from GTHA subdivisions and condo projects — being dumped around the countryside every day. 

While some law-abiding property owners have permits to accept dirt, other loads are dumped illegally, or in amounts that surpass what the permit allows. And until now, the city has been scrambling to try to get a handle on it.

It's a step, finally.- Robert Pasuta, Ward 14 councillor

The province is establishing a new "excess soil management policy framework" that would give the province and municipalities more teeth to crack down on dirt woes. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change is asking for public input until March 26. Hamilton will weigh in.

Robert Pasuta, a Ward 14 councillor who has been tackling the issue for about five years, says the framework isn't a total solution. But it helps.

"We have to have more enforcement, heavier fines and act quickly, more quickly than we ever have," he said. But "it's a step, finally."

The city will urge Ontario to put more onus on the person who digs up the dirt in the first place — namely, the developers.

Where to put the dirt, and testing what's in it, should be part of a project from the planning stages, Pasuta said. And Hamilton is telling the province that.

The city will also urge more communication between municipalities and conservation authorities. Authorities issue permits for legal fill, as does the city under its site alteration bylaw. But the two often don't communicate about it.

It won't solve the whole problem of fill, Pasuta said. After all, rules only help manage people who abide by them, or people the city can find to regulate. And there are plenty of illegal dirt dumpers in rural Flamborough.

Pasuta and others say that dirt dumping continues to be a lucrative enough business that it encourages people to find loopholes.

Typically, a fill broker approaches rural landowners and offers them money — usually $5 to $10 per load, or services in trade – to take the fill. The brokers then pocket bigger money from developers wanting to get rid of it. Nathan Murray, a Conservation Halton watershed enforcement officer, told CBC News last year that he knows of fill brokers who make $20,000 a week.

Pasuta and local conservation authorities are worried about what's in the fill, too. Often, it soil on top, Pasuta said. But deeper down, it contains rocks, bits of steel and scraps of old tire.

Authorities have been cracking down more often on brokers and landowners on the issue of fill. Last year, an Ontario court fined a Flamborough couple $1,500 for taking more than 2,000 loads of fill.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC