Plan aims to spur cleanup of old mine sites – by Darren MacDonald (Sudbury Northern Life – June 04, 2013)

Staff report recommends extending brownfield strategy to include hundreds of abandoned mines

The city is considering a plan to extend its award-winning brownfield strategy to encourage the rehabilitation of hundreds of former mine sites in Greater Sudbury.

A brownfield is the term used to describe land that has been used for industrial or commercial purposes and needs to be rehabilitated before it can be used again.

They present a unique challenge for cities, particularly when landowners fall into tax arrears. Municipalities are reluctant to take ownership of the land, because they could be on the hook for cleanup costs.

“Tax arrears, absentee property owners, real or perceived contamination and capital-intensive remediation costs can deter interest and investment in brownfields,” a staff report on the issue says.

The strategy, passed in 2011, offers a series of incentives for landowners to rehabilitate the properties. For example, the city could forgo property taxes for up to three years to help offset cleanup costs.

The policy also allows for rebates on landfill tipping fees up to $40,000, planning and building permit fees rebates of up to $70,000 and a deferral of tax increases resulting from the increase in property values for up to five years.

At its June 10 meeting, the planning committee will consider amending the strategy. Currently, it’s limited to the 60 brownfields in urban areas, but a staff proposal would see it extended to lands in non-urban areas in Greater Sudbury.

“The Province of Ontario, through its Abandoned Mines Information System (AMIS) database, estimates that there are 323 AMIS sites in Greater Sudbury,” the report says.

“Some of these sites are active or inactive mines. Others are abandoned mines or mine hazards. The severity of these mine hazards vary depending on the stage and extent of the historic mining activity.

“The amendments would make the financial incentive mechanisms available to encourage the rehabilitation of properties that contain an abandoned mine site and mine hazards.”

The current strategy has led to one application to rehabilitate a brownfield, and a second application is pending, the report says. The strategy also received national attention.

Last year, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Canadian Urban Institute recognized the initiative for its “excellence and innovation,” the report says.

Most of the non-urban brownfield sites can be accessed from the city roads, the report says, and almost all are large.

“Some range from 150 to 600 acres in area,” the report says. “Others are part of even more extensive landholdings.”

Most have already been rehabilitated to varying degrees, but not up to modern standards outlined in the Mine Rehabilitation Code of Ontario. The lands are largely zoned rural, mining/mineral reserve and aggregate reserve in the city’s Official Plan.

One complicating factor is that, in some cases, the land is owned by one person or company, while the mineral rights are owned by someone else. Under provincial rules, it’s usually the responsibility of the mineral rights owner to rehabilitate the property.

While calling for the strategy to be extended, the staff report recommends keeping as much flexibility as possible. That way, the city can’t be forced into offering the incentives, or, in the case of a plan that would offer significant economic benefits, it can extend the maximum incentives to spur the development.

“The draft amendments would establish a policy framework that would allow the City of Greater Sudbury to equitably tailor the total and annual grants provided to each property and project,” the report says.

“These decisions would be made by city council on a case-by-case basis.”

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