Disposal at sea permit application guide: legislative and process framework, chapter 2

This section of the guide provides an outline of the legislative and general permit process and assessment framework for disposal at sea.

2.1 Substances that may be eligible for a disposal at sea permit

Except for emergency situations, all disposal at sea is prohibited without a permit. A permit may only be considered for substances that qualify as “waste or other matter” listed on Schedule 5 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) as follows:

  • dredged material
  • fish waste and other organic matter resulting from fish processing operations
  • inert, inorganic geological matter (excavated material)
  • uncontaminated organic matter of natural origin
  • ships, aircraft, platforms or other structures
  • bulky substances that are primarily composed of iron, steel, concrete or other similar matter

For the substances listed above, a disposal at sea permit will be required:

  • when the area you are working in is considered part of the "sea" (refer to section 2.1.1), and
  • when your project involves activities that are considered "disposal" (refer to section 2.1.2).Footnote 1

This guide focuses on the assessment of dredged material, excavated material, and fish waste. Contact your nearest Disposal at Sea Program regional office listed in Appendix A for guidance about disposing of other waste types.

2.1.1 Definition of sea

Disposal at sea legislation applies in all defined areas of the sea.

Canadian waters

The sea also includes all waters under Canadian jurisdiction (that is, all waters on the landward side of the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone), except the rivers, lakes and other fresh waters in Canada.

As internal waters, other than fresh water, are part of the sea, the sea is considered to extend within a river or an estuary to the point of the maximum extent of salt water intrusion at high tide and low flow conditions. The criterion of identifying salt water is a salinity concentration of greater than 0.5 parts per thousand. The landward boundary of the sea is Higher High Water Mean Tide.

The Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) Disposal at Sea Program has clarified the precise boundaries between the sea and fresh water for the estuaries of the Fraser (Figure 1), Mackenzie (Figure 2) and Miramichi (Figure 3) rivers, and for the Bras D’Or lakes (Figure 4).

Not included in the sea is the St. Lawrence River (Figure 5) as far seaward as the straight lines drawn from:

  1. Cap-des-Rosiers to the western-most point of Anticosti Island, and
  2. Anticosti Island to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River along the meridian of longitude 63°W.

Figure 1. Boundaries between the sea and fresh water for the Fraser River, British Columbia

Figure 1. Map showing boundaries between the sea and fresh water for the Fraser River, British Columbia.
Description of Figure 1

A map demonstrating the location of boundaries between the sea and fresh water beyond the mouth of the Fraser River, BC. South of Vancouver, on the river’s north channel, the boundary is located at the eastern end of Mitchell Island. Southwest of Richmond, on the river’s main channel, the boundary is located at Annacis Island.

Figure 2. Boundaries of the Sea, Mackenzie River Delta, Northwest Territories

A map demonstrating the boundaries between the sea and fresh water in the Mackenzie River Delta, NT, west of Tuktoyaktuk.
Description of Figure 2

A map demonstrating the location of boundaries between the sea and fresh water in the Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories, west of Tuktoyaktuk.

Figure 3. Boundaries between the sea and fresh water for the Miramichi River, New Brunswick

Figure 3. Map showing boundaries between the sea and fresh water for the Miramichi River, New Brunswick
Description of Figure 3

A map demonstrating the location of boundaries between the sea and fresh water in the Miramichi River, NB. One boundary exists upstream of Newcastle on the Northwest Miramichi River. The other is upstream of Chatham on the Southwest Miramichi River.

Figure 4. Bras d'Or Lake, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

Figure 4. Map of Bras d'Or Lakes, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Description of Figure 4

A map demonstrating the areas of the sea encompassed by waters of Bras d’Or Lake, St. Peters Inlet, Great Bras d’Or, St. Patrick’s Channel, Whycocomagh Bay and St. Andrews Channel, in Nova Scotia.

Figure 5. Boundaries of the sea, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec

Figure 5. Map showing boundaries of the sea, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec
Description of Figure 5

A map demonstrating the location of boundaries between the sea and fresh water in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec. North of Anticosti Island, the boundary is located at the midpoint of the island to the north shore of the Gulf. South of Anticosti Island, the boundary is located at the northwest tip of the island to the south shore of the Gulf.

You can contact the nearest Disposal at Sea Program regional office for guidance in identifying the boundaries of the sea and maximum extent of salt water within your proposed project area of interest for any areas not presently described in the regulations.

The disposal at sea provisions of CEPA don't apply where disposal is to occur entirely in fresh water or where marine dredged material is disposed of upland. However, within these areas, provincial or territorial regulations may apply, in addition to federal requirements under the Fisheries Act, such as those in section 36(3).

International waters

The high seas, except for the internal waters of a foreign state, are considered part of the sea when disposal occurs from a Canadian ship, aircraft or platform, or when substances to be disposed of are loaded in Canada onto a ship, aircraft or platform. For activities on the high seas, a Canadian disposal at sea permit for disposal in international waters will be required, unless a permit has been received from another state that is Party to the London Protocol or Convention.

2.1.2 Definition of disposal

Disposal means:

  1. the disposal of a substance at sea from a ship, an aircraft, a platform or another structure
  2. the disposal of dredged material into the sea from any source not mentioned in paragraph a.
  3. the storage on the seabed, in the subsoil of the seabed or on the ice in any area of the sea of a substance that comes from a ship, an aircraft, a platform or another structure
  4. the deposit of a substance on the ice in an area of the sea
  5. the disposal at sea of a ship or aircraft
  6. the disposal or abandonment at sea of a platform or another structure, and
  7. any other act or omission that constitutes a disposal under regulations.

2.2 Activities that don't require a disposal at sea permit

The definition of disposal within CEPA also lists a number of activities that are not considered disposal, and do not require a disposal at sea permit.

In general, these activities are as follows:

  • the normal operations of a ship, such as bilge or ballast-water discharge, or the onboard incineration of galley waste
    • these activities are generally regulated elsewhere
  • the placement of a substance for a purpose other than disposal so long as that placement is:
    • not contrary to the purposes of the division or the aims of the London Protocol or Convention (you must contact your nearest Disposal at Sea Program regional office to determine whether your activity is likely to constitute placement), and
    • meets the criteria for placement as defined by departmental policy
  • the abandonment of any matter, such as a cable, pipeline or research device, placed on the seabed for a purpose other than its disposal
  • a discharge related to the exploration for, exploitation of and associated offshore processing of seabed mineral resources

If you think that your project may fall into any of these categories, you must contact your nearest Disposal at Sea Program regional office for clarification on whether a permit is required. The Program is currently developing policy and guidance to clarify application of these exemptions, which will be available from your regional Program office.

A full description of the disposal activities that do not require disposal at sea permits can be found in CEPA.

2.3 How permit applications are assessed

The Act mandates ECCC to protect the marine environment, particularly by implementing the London Protocol and Convention, 2 treaties whose main objective is the prevention of marine pollution from all sources. The treaties require a permit system to control disposal at sea. The permit system under CEPA is designed to prevent marine pollution from the disposal of waste at sea and its related activities, for example, loading of material for disposal (which includes the act of dredging or excavating the material), and transportation of material to the disposal site. It is also designed to protect human health and avoid conflict with any other legitimate uses of the sea.

To achieve its mandate, ECCC assesses all aspects of proposed projects including, but not limited to:

  • sources of materials
  • equipment and methods used for dredging or excavating, loading, transporting and disposal
  • transportation route from the load site to the disposal site
  • sensitive species in the area

You are responsible for collecting and submitting detailed information supporting the permit application. The information submitted in your application is used to support Program staff’s assessment of the likely effects of a proposed activity on the marine environment and human health, and to render a decision whether to authorize the loading for disposal and the actual physical disposal of substances with conditions.

Permits are granted on a case-by-case basis after an application and assessment process. By following the process and assessment requirements described in Chapter 3 and in brief below, you comply with the assessment requirements of CEPA.

Permits will only be granted when permit applications demonstrate that:

  • substances proposed for disposal are on Schedule 5 and have been adequately characterized
  • disposal at sea is the environmentally preferable and practical alternative following consideration of other disposal options and means to prevent or reduce the generation of waste
  • pollution is prevented, and adverse environmental impacts are managed or mitigated, and
  • conflicts with other users of the sea are avoided

Permit applications must:

  • be in the application form prescribed in the Disposal at Sea Permit Application Regulations
  • comply with the assessment requirements of Schedule 6 of CEPA
  • be accompanied by a $2,555 application feeFootnote 2
  • provide evidence that a notice of application was published in a local newspaper, and
  • be accompanied by a permit feeFootnote 2 for the right and privilege of disposing of dredged or excavated material

Certain projects have a long-standing history and/or need to occur on a regular basis, for example:

  • maintenance dredging of navigational channels and disposal at sea of the resulting dredged material, or
  • the disposal of fish waste from remote fish processing facilities

For efficiency, ECCC will consider an assessment with a timeframe extending up to 5 years. However, permits can only be granted for a maximum duration of 1 year, so a permit application to authorize activities for each year disposal activities take place is still needed. In these cases, the previous assessment can simply be resubmitted (as opposed to redone) provided that the information contained and basic impact statements remain valid (for example, are less than 5 years old). Please consult your nearest Disposal at Sea Program regional office for additional details about multi-year assessments.

For dredged material, excavated material, or fish waste, permits authorizing loading at multiple locations and disposal at multiple disposal sites at sea can also be issued. Multi-site permits allow an applicant with a number of small projects to consolidate them under 1 permit. A multi-site permit can also allow flexibility in timing for operations across various sites. Permits may be issued for multi-sites provided that specific conditions are met, and are generally for activities involving small volumes of clean substances at each load site. Please consult your nearest Disposal at Sea Program regional office if you wish to consider applying for a multi-site permit.

Some disposal at sea permits may be eligible to be renewed, and section 2.5 has additional information for you.

Related links

2.4 Permit application assessment process

It will take up to 90 days to complete the assessment of an application, and up to 14 additional days for processing the permit publication and public notification through the CEPA Registry. This timeline is dependent upon the quality of the information submitted with an application, the complexity of the proposed activities and the need for public or Indigenous consultation. Any or all of these factors may increase the time required to complete the regulatory permit assessment process.

The permit application assessment process generally involves the following steps:

Step 1:

Upon receipt of a permit application, Program staff will conduct a preliminary review to ensure that sufficient information has been provided to begin assessing the proposed project. If you want to be able to renew the permit in the future, you must request that the permit be considered for potential renewals and indicate the number of renewals desired (dredged material and fish waste applications only).

Step 2:

If the application does not have the information required to begin the assessment of the proposed project, additional information will be requested from you, in writing. The 90-day timeline on the application assessment doesn't start until you have been notified in writing that the application is complete.

Step 3:

If an application package is deemed to be complete, it will be circulated to other relevant federal and provincial or territorial agencies for review. The entire permit application package may also be forwarded to other identified users of the sea and Indigenous organizations.

Reviewers will be requested to provide their expert advice on potential issues related to:

  • available alternatives to disposal at sea
  • chemical contamination concerns
  • risks to navigation
  • impacts on marine species and habitat, and
  • conflicts with other uses of the sea.

Based on advice received from reviewers, Program staff will determine whether you will be required to provide further information or adjust the proposal. You may need to provide additional information at any time during the assessment process. If further analysis is required, the 90-day review timeline will be suspended until the information has been provided.

Step 4:

Further consultations with other users of the sea or Indigenous groups or both, including public meetings, may be required where significant concerns about a proposed project are raised. The assessment time limit will be suspended pending the completion of these consultation processes.

Step 5:

Once any additional information is assessed and all reviewer comments and other relevant feedback are considered, impact statements and mitigation measures will be finalized, and an Environmental Protection Plan is developed and reviewed, if required.

Step 6:

A final decision is made to issue or to refuse to issue a permit by ECCC. If a permit is to be issued, permit conditions necessary to avoid or mitigate project impacts will be included, and you may be consulted on the draft permit conditions prior to their finalization. Permits typically govern timining, handling, storing, loading (including dredging or excavation activities), disposal at the disposal site, and subsequent monitoring requirements.

If the project application is refused, you must find an alternative to disposing of any substances at sea. The application fee is non-refundable. If applicable, any permit fee that has been paid will be refunded.

Applicants requesting a renewable permit will be notified of their eligibility as required by the Disposal at Sea Regulations.

Step 7:

Upon completion of the entire application assessment process, which can take up to 90 days for a complete application, the ECCC Disposal at Sea Program must publish a copy of the permit and its conditions to the CEPA Registry.

This publication process requires a total of 14 days including 7 days for permit processing and another 7 days for publication in the CEPA Registry. Without exception, a permit must be published for 7 days before the first date on which loading or disposal can be authorized by the permit. During this 7 day publication period, a person could file a "Notice of Objection" to an ECCC decision to issue, refuse, suspend, revoke or vary the conditions of a permit.

Step 8:

The permittee may begin operations in accordance with permit conditions. The start date for loading and disposal is always set to account for the Registry publication period (up to 14 days following the 90-day review process). This period is set by CEPA and cannot be waived, so you should plan activities accordingly.

Related links

2.5 Permit renewal application assessment process

Permits are valid for a maximum length of 1 year. However, permits for routine, low-risk projects that are not expected to change from year to year may be eligible to be renewed.  

2.5.1  Eligibility for renewal

To be eligible for renewal, the initial permit application must indicate the desire for the permit to be eligible for renewal and indicate the number of renewals requested, up to 4 times (that is, once a year for up to 4 years).

Program staff will notify you if your permit is eligible for renewal and the number of years for which it will be eligible. The renewal eligibility criteria are listed in section 8.4 of the Disposal at Sea Regulations. Some of the criteria are as follows:

  • you must be in compliance with all permit conditions for valid permits or other relevant statutory requirements
  • loading and disposal sites are consistent with those described in permits issued in the last 5 years
  • there is no history of material at the load site being deemed unsuitable for disposal at sea
    • in the case of dredged material, at least 3 sets of test results from the previous 5 years or more confirm the suitability of the material for disposal

Renewals will not be permitted in cases where the chemistry is no longer valid, or the quantity exceeds the total quantity assessed under the Schedule 6 assessment. If the total quantity is exceeded or chemistry has expired, a new application will be required.

2.5.2  Applying to renew a permit

To renew a permit that is eligible for renewal, the following steps must be followed:

Step 1:

You must submit a completed application form to renew the permit at least 90 days before the expiry of the existing permit. The permit renewal application form is available online.

The application for permit renewal must include:

  • information on any changes to the load or disposal sites or to the project
  • any new information obtained since the original permit assessment
  • be accompanied by the payment of the $2,555 application fee, and
  • provide evidence that a Notice of Application was published in a local newspaper

Step 2:

Upon receipt of an application for permit renewal, Program staff will conduct a preliminary review to ensure that sufficient information has been provided to begin assessing the proposed renewal and you will be notified in writing as follows:

  • if the renewal application does not have the information required to begin the assessment, additional information will be requested, or
  • if the renewal application package is deemed to be complete

There is a 45-day time limit for making a decision regarding the permit renewal once the application is deemed complete. Program staff, with the assistance of reviewers from other relevant agencies as needed, will determine whether any changes to the project would preclude permit renewal. You may need to provide additional information at any time during the assessment process.

Step 3:

Depending on the nature of changes to the project, comments from reviewers, and any other information available, Program staff may conclude that changes are insubstantial and unlikely to change the conditions or assumptions associated with the original permit, and therefore decide to issue a permit renewal. Conversely, Program staff may consider the project substantially changed from the original permit application such that there is insufficient information to assess the potential impacts of the proposed project. At this point, the renewal will not be considered further.

Step 4:

Impact statements and mitigation measures will be finalized, and the Environmental Protection Plan associated with the original permit will be updated and reviewed, if required.

Step 5:

Upon completion of the entire renewal application assessment process, which can take up to 45 days for a complete application, a final decision is made to issue or to refuse to issue a permit renewal. If a permit renewal is to be issued, permit conditions necessary to avoid or mitigate project impacts will be included.

If the application to renew a permit is refused, you may submit a new permit application or find an alternative to disposing of any substances at sea. The application fee is non-refundable. If applicable, any permit fee that has been paid will be refunded.

Step 6:

When the permit renewal is signed by ECCC, it will be considered to have been issued. However, the permit renewal will not be effective immediately upon being issued because Program staff must publish a copy of the permit and its conditions to the CEPA Registry for at least 7 days before the permit comes into effect. During this 7-day publication period, a person could file a "Notice of Objection" to the decision to issue, refuse, suspend, revoke or vary the conditions of a renewed permit. Additionally, preparation for publication can take as much as 7 additional days. As a result, this publication process requires a total of 14 days, following the 45-day timeframe for the review process. This 14-day period cannot be waived, so you should plan accordingly.

Step 7:

As of the effective date of the renewed permit, the Permittee may begin operations in accordance with the conditions of the permit.

Related links

2.6 After a permit is issued

After a permit is issued, periodic inspections will be conducted during loading and disposal operations to ensure compliance with the permit conditions. In cases of non-compliance, enforcement officers will investigate. If a violation is confirmed, action will be taken using 1 or more of the enforcement tools available to ECCC under federal legislation, including CEPA.

After disposal operations are completed, ECCC conducts annual monitoring studies at selected sites to verify that permit conditions were met and that scientific assumptions made during the permit review process were correct and sufficient to protect the marine environment. Results of the disposal site monitoring studies are considered in future permit assessments and reports summarizing these results are available from the Disposal at Sea Program headquarters office.

To ensure compliance with permit conditions, permittees may be required to verify and report to ECCC on various aspects of their project implementation. For compliance monitoring requirements on the permit-holder and associated planning and reporting requirements, further details can be found in Chapter 4.

2.7 Other regulatory requirements

In addition to your disposal at sea permit requirements, there may be other regulatory requirements and authorizations that apply to your project. These may include the following:

Northern environmental assessment processes

Nunavik Marine Region
Labrador Inuit Settlement Area

Provincial and territorial requirements

It is up to you to contact the relevant authorities to determine the nature and scope of any provincial or territorial approvals that may be required.

 

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