Who regulates brownfields?
In Alberta, brownfields are primarily governed by provincial regulations. The federal government has generally refrained from regulating brownfields except in relation to federally owned (Crown) land. Municipalities have the ability to adopt bylaws related to brownfields.
|Federal Government||Although federal legislation, such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, could apply to brownfields, the federal government has generally deferred to provincial legislation except in the case of federally owned land. The Federal Contaminated Sites Portal provides details on how the federal government approaches contaminated sites such as abandoned mines on Crown land in the North, airports, and military bases.|
The Alberta Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act governs the prevention of contamination, liability for costs, responsibility for cleanup of brownfields as well as the manner in which remediation or reclamation efforts are conducted.
Under the Act, the province has established a Contaminated Sites Policy Framework, which sets the current path towards achieving remediation in the province. The framework integrates provisions relating to contamination set out the Public Health Act and Water Act into guidelines for remediation.
The Municipal Government Act provides municipalities with a variety of land use planning and financial tools that can be used to address brownfields. The Act is currently under review, and proposed amendments may provide additional tools to incent redevelopment. See the section below for details on how the Municipal Government Act amendments will impact brownfields.
Also, see the section Brownfield Case Studies for more details on how municipalities are managing contaminated properties and pursuing redevelopment opportunities.
More detail on how provincial regulations and municipal plans and bylaws apply to the various stages of brownfield redevelopment is available through the Green Municipal Fund’s Brownfield Roadmap for Alberta. In addition, the Canadian Institute of Resources Law provides a detailed analysis of federal, provincial and municipal law in Strategies for Cleaning up Contaminated Sites in Alberta.
Municipal Government Act amendments and brownfields
The province has been working with AUMA, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta, and other stakeholders over the last decade to make comprehensive amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA). One of the issues that AUMA has strongly advocated on is the need for new tools to address brownfields. In October 2017, amendments outlined below were proclaimed that will make it easier for municipalities to encourage brownfield redevelopment. A full list of AUMA’s work on the MGA is available on the AUMA Municipal Government Act Review website.
|Brownfield Tax Incentives|
|Policy Issue||Property tax tools for incenting brownfield redevelopment.|
|Description of Changes||
The MGA has been amended to enable municipalities to grant multi-year tax cancellations, reductions, or deferrals on brownfield properties. This tool applies to properties suitable for redevelopment that councils deem contaminated, possibly contaminated, vacant, derelict, or underutilized.
Previously, cancellations, reductions, and deferrals were limited to one year.
One of the issues with the previous one-year limit on brownfield tax incentives was unpredictability for developers. As municipalities had to re-pass the incentive every year, developers were less willing to invest in properties that take multiple years to remediate and redevelop.
The new tax incentive tools will allow municipalities to grant incentives that last the length of the redevelopment process, attracting investment in brownfield sites.
In order to utilize the tool, municipalities must pass a bylaw that:
Prior to passing the bylaw, the council must hold a public hearing.
Once the bylaw is in place, brownfield property owners can submit an application to the municipality for the incentive. A designated officer of the municipality can determine whether a property meets the requirements and issue a certificate granting the incentive.
The amendments enabling the brownfield incentive tool came into force on January 1, 2018.
AUMA is supportive of the amendments enabling tax cancellations, deferrals, or reductions to incent brownfield redevelopment.
Additional background information on changes is available from the brownfields Implementation Fact Sheet developed by Municipal Affairs with support from AUMA and RMA.
An outstanding issue remains regarding the MGA amendments on property taxation subclasses. New amendments to the Act enable municipalities to create additional non-residential subclasses in the form of “vacant non-residential” and “small business” subclasses. However, these subclasses must be within a 5:1 ratio of the residential rate. AUMA has advocated that brownfields should be specifically exempted from this requirement in order to allow for the creation of subclasses for brownfields or vacant property that exceed the 5:1 rate.