Can You Dig it? Minnesota Looks at Potential for Greater Reuse of Regulated Fill Soils

States around the U.S. have different regulations governing how regulated (contaminated) fill soils at redevelopment sites are managed, and whether they can be reused. The most common practice is what’s called “dig and dump”, or excavating soils with contaminant concentrations in exceedance of permitted levels, then hauling those soils to an area landfill to use as daily cover. Problem solved, right? Turns out, not exactly.

Hauling regulated soil to landfills is expensive. For many Minnesota metro-area redevelopment projects receiving brownfield grant funds, up to 100% of grant funding is sometimes used just for dig and dump. Given that most brownfield grant programs are oversubscribed, this is concerning. Furthermore, trucks transporting the fill soils to often remote landfills result in additional vehicle miles traveled. Elsewhere around the world, countries like Great Britain are at or nearing landfill capacity and have had to find other solutions to this problem. Meanwhile, in Minnesota there are redevelopment projects occurring in close proximity where Site A has excess soils, and Site B requires additional soils. Depending on the characteristics of the fill soils, there is the hypothetical possibility to transfer regulated soils between the sites. There could be tremendous cost savings and reduced truck traffic realized in such a scenario.

Minnesota Brownfields has studied current redevelopment practices to measure the economic and environmental cost of dig and dump. Since 2015, Minnesota Brownfields has been meeting regularly with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to consider policy revisions to allow regulated fill reuse at redevelopment sites, if certain conditions are met to ensure protection of human health and the environment. Those who work in redevelopment know that MPCA already has a policy in place to enable regulated fill reuse. Without liability protection, the policy — though well-intended — just hasn’t been used. So the current discussion is focused on providing liability protection for both the exporting and importing site. While we aren’t there yet, a change to MN Statutes is being considered to address this issue.

Want to learn more? Read more about our soil reuse study here. Or join us on Tuesday, July 18 at the State of Brownfields Update in Minneapolis, where Amy Hadiaris of MPCA and attorney Sara Peterson will present potential policy and changes. To learn more about how soil reuse works elsewhere in the world, attend the EPA Brownfields Conference December 5-7 in Pittsburgh, where Sara Peterson will moderate a panel discussion with representatives from the United Kingdom and Province of Ontario.