How are Historic Resources like Environmental Contaminants?

By Kurtis Blaikie-Birkigt on February 19, 2016

Tree Time Services is proud to sponsor the breakfasts at the 2016 Edmonton and Calgary ESAA Regulatory Forums.

I attended the Environmental Services Association of Alberta regulatory forum in Edmonton on January 11th, 2016 with Mike Toffan, our Reclamation Coordinator. None of the regulatory updates dealt directly with Historical Resources Act concerns, but our work often occurs in the broader environmental regulation context, so it’s good to have a general understanding of things like the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Environmental Site Assessment Standards. The presentations by Gordon Dinwoodie and Brian Lambert of Alberta Environment and Parks were of particular interest to me. Throughout Brian Lambert’s overview of the updated standards on Environmental Site Assessment (ESA), I was struck by the parallels between Environmental Site Assessment and Historical Resources Impact Assessment (HRIA).

Both types of assessment deal with identifying a value on the landscape and coming up with a plan for how we’re going to manage that value. In an ESA, the value of concern is a negative one left at the end of project’s lifecycle, for example chemical contaminants in the soils and sediments. In the case of an HRIA, we’re dealing with the identification of a positive value on the land; historic, archaeological or palaeontological resources, and how we’re going to manage impacts to them in advance of a planned development.

In both cases, we have to first determine what, if anything, is there. We do this through a combination of historical research, remote sensing, and judgemental or systematic subsurface sampling. If we identify a conflicting value in the landscape, our next challenge is to delineate and evaluate it. We have to determine the spatial extent of the contaminant or the historic resource, both horizontally and vertically. The methods we use are again very similar: subsurface sampling by means of test holes, cores, backhoe trenches, etc. Even the semi-systematic test patterns we use are similar. We then evaluate the concern, using a combination of metric and qualitative measures, to determine what, if any, mitigation is required.

Mitigative strategies are similar too. We can mitigate impacts (to the environment or to the historical record) by removing and recovering the value in question, or we can try to manage the value in-place. Long-term management poses very similar challenges. Whether we’re talking about “Exposure Control” for environmental contaminants, or a long-term avoidance plan for a historic resource site within a project area, there are a lot of risks. Alberta Environment’s Site Assessment Standards lay out guidelines for an “Exposure Control” Risk Management Plan. The challenges to long-term management that they identify include:

  • Containment to prevent migration
  • Monitoring
  • Ongoing communication to stakeholders
  • Contingency planning for a containment failure
  • A long-term commitment to future management of the concern

These are all concerns that are paralleled when we’re dealing with an industry commitment to manage a historic resource site. A key point to keep in mind is that under these Standards, there’s no “regulatory closure” for risk-managed (as opposed to mitigated) contaminated sites. This is a major problem in efforts at risk management for historic resource sites to date.

Throughout Lambert’s presentation, I kept thinking that the processes outlined in the new Environmental Site Assessment standards could provide a great framework for a scientific risk-management system for historic resources in the 21st century. I look forward to reviewing them in detail and seeing what I might be able to borrow from them to improve our historic resource management programs for our long-term clients.

To keep up to date on Historic Resource regulations and processes, you can subscribe to our quarterly Regulatory Update email.

Related Posts


By Fallon Hardie

June 20, 2024

National Indigenous Peoples Day, 2024

The Role of Indigenous Engagement in the Stewardship of Cultural Landscapes National Indigenous Peoples Day is a celebratory holiday to commemorate the culture, heritage, and contributions of the Indigenous population of Turtle Island (Canada). This year, we would like to highlight the significance of Indigenous involvement in forestry-based archaeological assessments, and research programs throughout the

Keep Reading

By Corey Cookson

Mountain range, backlit by the afternoon sun

October 17, 2023

International Archaeology Day

What is it? International Archaeology Day is a celebration of Archaeology and it’s contributions to society! International Archaeology Day annually falls on the third Saturday of October (October 21st), and was first celebrated in 2011. The day was originally designed on a national level to help promote public participation and awareness of the important contributions

Keep Reading

By Braedy Chapman

July 2, 2023

Top sites of 2022, BC edition

Field operations in British columbia 2022 marked Ember Archaeology’s first year of significant field operations in British Columbia. Our BC crews conducted a number of sizable wildfire-related projects for the BC Ministry of Forests over the course of the season, ultimately surveying hundreds of kilometers of constructed fireguards and fuel reduction developments. These were nearly

Keep Reading