Municipal environmental assessment process is too costly: report
A construction labour and management organization in Ontario has found that the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment process holds up a project by more than two years on average and costs $386,000, not counting municipal staff time. The Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO), says the delays and duplication are costing taxpayers money and delaying infrastructure renewal unnecessarily.
The RCCAO sponsored an independent study comparing the municipal environmental review laws in Ontario with other jurisdictions, including outside Canada. The study’s author, Frank Zechner, LL.B., P.Eng., concluded “Ontario’s Municipal Class EA system is out of step with other jurisdictions…. [B]ecause the MCEA process requires on average 27 months to complete, addressing the infrastructure backlog becomes that much more difficult once you factor in the time to make detailed designs, put the project to tender and actually undertake construction.”
Zechner reviewed environmental review practices in other countries, such as the U.K., Austria, Japan, South Korea and the Netherlands. His report found, for example, that these countries focus their environmental reviews on new roads rather than on changes to existing roads, such as widening roads for HOV lanes.
In particular the report refers to “Bump Up” requests as a problem. RCCAO executive director Andy Manahan said: “Ontario’s planning system has evolved to incorporate greater environmental oversight, but a single municipal project could be subject to two appeal mechanisms — a Bump Up request under the EA Act and an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board under the Planning Act.
Also, under the current rules it only needs one person to request a full environmental review to trigger a full environmental review from the province. A full environmental assessment can add more than 10 months to project schedules, notes the report.
The reports recommendations for streamlining the assessment process include:
– reducing duplication by harmonizing public consultations with the municipal planning process;
– setting a higher threshold for Bump Up requests, requiring a minimum percentage of the voting public to initiate a provincial review;
– eliminating capital cost thresholds for reviews and instead going by measures such as the length of road to be widened or the capacity to be added to a sewer system;
– in the case of emergency construction work, ensuring that rebuilding that involves new routes or capacities is not held up by the Class EA process.
The RCCAO was established in 2005 and has 10 member organizations, including the Heavy Construction Association and the Toronto and Area Roadbuilders Association.
To read the RCCAO report, “Comparing Ontario’s Municipal Class EA System to Other Jurisdictions; Public Intervention in Local Infrastructure Projects,” February 2015, click here.