In its official response to a new Government-wide: Contaminated Sites audit by Acting Auditor General of Nova Scotia, Terry Spicer, the Nova Scotia government says it will create an interdepartmental advisory group to bring government-wide consistency to the reporting and management of contaminated sites. The advisory group will report to a new oversight body, whose structure and membership are still to be determined.
The commitment is found in the government’s response to the four recommendations made in the Acting Auditor General’s report, which was released July 28, 2020. In it, the audit reviewed Nova Scotia’s processes for identifying and managing contaminated sites. The audit also reviewed progress on implementation of the June 2010 Management of Contaminated Sites audit. It found that four of the 16 recommendations made 10 years ago were not complete.
As of March 31, 2019, Nova Scotia carried a $372.1-million liability for contaminated sites and was responsible for tracking 127 sites, Spicer says in his opening statement. Despite this, there is no coordinated approach for assessing and managing risks for contaminated sites, and no oversight body responsible for creating a provincial approach to contaminated sites management.
The Department of Environment administers and enforces the Contaminated Sites Regulations (N.S. Reg. 64/2012), but the audit found that it is up to each department to identify sites, and processes vary from one department to the next. The regulation and associate protocols don’t set timelines for testing when contamination is suspected or even define when a person ought to suspect a site of being contaminated. As a result, the Acting Auditor General’s report uses the expression “potentially contaminated” throughout to describe sites where contamination is, or should be, suspected.
This means that not all potentially contaminated sites are tracked, and there is no system to prioritize site evaluations and remediation. Without a consistent system, there is no way of ensuring that scarce government resources are allocated in the most efficient way possible.
“Without more formal direction,” the Acting Auditor General’s report says, “there is a risk that potentially contaminated sites are never tested, and remediation may never happen.”