Municipal Class Environmental Assessment Process and
Master Planning Process

Municipal Class Environmental Assessment Process

What is a Municipal Class Environmental Assessment?

The planning and design of municipal infrastructure projects must meet the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act, which is a provincially legislated document that governs all public undertakings that have the potential to affect the environment. In this sense, the term "environment" is broadly applied to include the natural, social, cultural, constructed and economic environments. The Environmental Assessment Act essentially defines a planning and design process that proponents of projects must follow to ensure that all environmental impacts are considered, and any effects appropriately mitigated, before their project is implemented.

Many projects related to municipal water supply, sanitary sewerage and transportation systems are similar in nature, are carried out routinely, and have predictable and mitigable environmental effects. In order to facilitate the undertaking of such routine municipal projects, the Municipal Engineers Association (MEA) has defined a simplified planning and design process known as a "Municipal Class Environmental Assessment".

In general, the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (Class EA) process categorizes proposed municipal projects according to their anticipated environmental impact, and calls for increasingly stringent review requirements as the magnitude of the anticipated environmental impact increases. The Ministry of the Environment has formally recognized the Municipal Class EA process as meeting the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act, and the MEA has issued a comprehensive document to detail the process.

The Municipal Class EA process was originally approved in 1987, and has proven to be a sound means of planning and designing municipal infrastructure projects. The Regional Municipality of Durham has planned and designed numerous water supply, sanitary sewerage and transportation system projects using the Municipal Class EA process

How are projects categorized under the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment process?

Under the Municipal Class EA process, proposed projects are categorized under various "Schedules" as follows:

Schedule 'A'

Projects categorized as Schedule 'A' undertakings are limited in scale and are anticipated to have a negligible environmental effect. These projects include the majority of municipal maintenance and operational activities, such as repairing water main breaks, cleaning sanitary sewers, or adding traffic control signals to an intersection. Schedule 'A' projects are pre-approved, and may proceed to implementation without following the full Municipal Class EA process.


Schedule 'A+'

Schedule 'A+' projects are also limited in scale, but they have a somewhat broader scale than Schedule 'A' projects. Schedule 'A+' projects are anticipated to have a minimal environmental impact; therefore, they are also pre-approved and may proceed to implementation without following the full Municipal Class EA process. Some examples of Schedule 'A+' projects are refurbishing a water supply plant, installing a sewer within an existing road allowance, and adding turning lanes to an intersection.


Schedule 'B'

Projects categorized as Schedule 'B’ undertakings have the potential for some adverse environmental impacts, therefore, the proponent is required to proceed through a screening process. This includes consultation with all parties that may potentially be affected by the project to ensure that they are aware of the project and that any concerns are suitably addressed. If there are no outstanding concerns, then the project may proceed to implementation. Schedule 'B’ projects generally involve minor modifications to existing facilities, such as increasing the depth of a municipal well, retiring a water pollution control plant, or constructing a minor expansion to a road.


Schedule 'C'

Projects categorized as Schedule 'C’ undertakings have the potential for significant environmental effects, and are required to follow the full planning and design process specified under the Municipal Class EA. Schedule 'C’ projects require the compilation of all relevant information into a clear and easily understood report called an "Environmental Study Report" (ESR), which must be made available for review by the public and regulatory review agencies. Schedule 'C’ projects generally involve the construction of new facilities or major modifications to existing facilities, such as constructing a new water treatment plant, expanding an existing water pollution control plant beyond its rated capacity, or significantly widening an existing road.

The Municipal Class EA document provides lists of typical projects for determining the appropriate Schedule for the proposed undertaking.

What are the phases of a Municipal Class Environmental Assessment?

The Municipal Class EA process is a flexible process that can be customized to address the needs of a specific project. It comprises five general phases, depending on the project Schedule, that allow for the development and evaluation of alternative methods of carrying out a water supply, sanitary sewerage or transportation project. The principal steps in each phase are summarized as follows:

Phase 1

Identify the problem, deficiency or opportunity, and develop a clear statement of the issues that are to be addressed.


Phase 2

Identify the reasonable alternative solutions that could be implemented to address the issues. Establish the preferred solution based on an assessment of the environmental impact, including consideration of stakeholder input.


Phase 3

Identify alternative methods of implementing the preferred solution. Establish the preferred method based on an assessment of the environmental impact, including consideration of stakeholder input.


Phase 4

Compile all relevant study information, including study rational, environmental considerations, consultation process and recommendations into a clear and easily understood report entitled an "Environmental Study Report" (ESR), and make the document available for review by interested or affected parties.


Phase 5

Implement the preferred method of addressing the issues, including completion of contract documents and construction of any recommended works. Monitor implementation for adherence to environmental provisions and commitments, and where dictated monitor the operation of completed facilities.


A flow chart outlining the Municipal Class EA process is provided below:

Thumbnail of Municipal Class EA process. Click to view PDF.

The copyright for the above flow chart is owned by the Municipal Engineers Association (MEA). No reproduction or redistribution except for municipal purposes is permitted without the express written consent of the MEA

How does the public get involved in a Municipal Class Environmental Assessment?

The Municipal Class EA process identifies a number of mandatory points of contact between the proponent of a project and potentially affected or interested stakeholders, including members of the general public, interest groups, regulatory review agencies and municipalities. This ensures that stakeholders are provided with sufficient opportunity to comment on proposed projects, and allows for an exchange of opinions and ideas. An effective consultation program leads to better decision-making, and ensures compliance with all public policy and regulatory requirements.

The methods employed to contact the public will vary from community to community, and will depend on the nature of the project and on the potential environmental effects. The public may be notified by the placement of notices in newspapers, mailing of notices directly to affected persons, posting of notices or the announcement of a project through the media. Information may be provided through the distribution of study packages or newsletters, display of project information panels or creation of a project website. The opportunity to consult with the public and exchange opinions and ideas may be achieved through public open houses, workshops, public meetings, questionnaires, telephone calls or personal visits.

It is up to the proponent to tailor a consultation program such that it reflects the needs of a project and the stakeholders. The mandatory points of contact stipulated under the Municipal Class EA process are typically considered the minimum requirements. For controversial, lengthy or complicated projects it will likely be necessary to make additional contact with stakeholders to facilitate an effective consultation program.

Any individual who is interested in a proposed municipal project, or who may be affected by the project, is encouraged to become involved in the process as early as possible before critical decisions are made.

Can the public appeal the final recommendations of a Municipal Class Environmental Assessment?

Occasionally, a project may be planned under the Municipal Class EA process where members of the general public, interest groups, regulatory review agencies or municipalities do not believe that their concerns have been adequately addressed. Under the Municipal Class EA process, the opportunity exists for a person or party with unresolved concerns at the conclusion of the planning process to request that the Ontario Minister of the Environment review the status of the project. The Minister will consider the request and make one of the following decisions, with the Minister’s decision being final:

Members of the public are responsible for bringing any concerns to the attention of the proponent early in the planning process when the proponent has greater flexibility to accommodate changes in the project and planning process. In considering a request, the issues reviewed by the Minister shall include the extent that the person or party making the request participated in the planning process, the degree to which public consultation and dispute resolution have taken place, and the nature of the request. A request to the Minister that is conspicuously made with the intent of delaying the planning or implementation of a project, or which does not contain a reasonable amount of supporting information, may be denied by the Minister on the basis of being unsubstantiated.

There is a greater opportunity for an amicable resolution to be reached during the planning process when direct consultation takes place between the proponent and the person or party raising the concern. Therefore, the resolution of concerns during the planning stage is preferable to having the Minister make a final decision at the conclusion of the planning stage.

Master Planning Process

What is a Master Plan?

A Master Plan is a long range plan that ties together the various needs of an overall system, such as a water distribution system or a road network. Typically, a Master Plan is comprised of a set of separate projects that are dispersed geographically over a broad study area and are to be individually implemented over an extended period of time.

Why Undertake a Master Plan?

In many cases it is beneficial to begin the planning process by developing a Master Plan because such a planning approach allows the individual needs of a system to be defined in the broader context. For example, a water distribution system may require a treatment plant expansion at one location, a reservoir expansion at another location, and the construction of a water main at yet another location. A Master Plan will develop an overall strategy for implementing all of these requirements, which will likely entail a number of individual (yet related) projects.

How is a Master Plan Developed?

Master Plans integrate infrastructure needs with environmental assessment planning principals. When preparing a Master Plan the principals of the Municipal Class EA process are applied, including the requirement that an effective stakeholder consultation program be undertaken. At a minimum, a Master Plan addresses Phases 1 and 2 of the Municipal Class EA process.

A Master Plan is typically subject to the approval of the municipality for which it was prepared. Prior to being approved, a clear and concise Master Plan report is made available for public comment. Following consideration of any public comment and subsequent approval of the Master Plan, the report is reviewed periodically to determine whether there is a need for formal updating of the Master Plan. Details on how and when a specific Master Plan will be reviewed are generally documented in that Master Plan.

How are the Recommended Projects in a Master Plan Implemented?

The individual projects recommended under a Master Plan may be categorized as Schedule 'A', Schedule 'B' or Schedule 'C' under the Municipal Class EA process. At the time that the individual projects included in the Master Plan are to be implemented, they are subject to the requirements of the Municipal Class EA process. For Schedule 'B' and Schedule 'C' projects identified within a Master Plan, the work undertaken during the development of the Master Plan can be used in support of the requirements of Phases 1 and 2 of the Municipal Class EA.

For example, if an individual project is to be implemented and it is a Schedule 'C' project under the Municipal Class EA process, the work undertaken during the development of the Master Plan can be used in support of the requirements of Phases 1 and 2 of the Municipal Class EA. It would be necessary to fulfil the additional requirements of Phases 3 and 4 in order to consider the project specific issues that were beyond the scope of the Master Planning process. Similarly, for Schedule 'B' projects it would be necessary to fulfil the consultation and documentation requirements.

Can a Master Plan be Subject to a "Part II Order"?

A Master Plan itself cannot be ordered to comply with Part II of the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA), also known as a "Part II Order". However, the individual projects included in the Master Plan are subject to the requirements of the Municipal Class EA process at the time that they are to be implemented, therefore, a request for a "Part II Order" can be made for individual projects at that time under the Municipal Class EA process.

Additional Information

Where can I find additional information regarding environmental legislation in Ontario?

Additional information on environmental legislation in Ontario, including the Class EA process and the Environmental Assessment Act, can be found on the Ontario Ministry of the Environment's website.