Understanding Soil Management Plans

Published On: January 6, 2021

Cleaning up contaminated properties can take a long time at great expense. In most cases, conducting a completely “clean” cleanup is not always feasible and can be cost-prohibitive. As a result, risk-based closures are becoming more common, which means residual contamination remains behind and environmental restrictions are applied to the property.  These restrictions are used to manage risks and control completed or potentially completed exposure pathways. The increasing acceptance and use of environmental restrictions has allowed for flexibility with closures, thus facilitating future redevelopment activities.  However, these environmental restrictions must be accounted for prior to redevelopment or construction activities. A common environmental restriction that occurs with risk-based closure is that soil disturbance cannot be performed without following an appropriate Soil Management Plan (SMP).  SMPs should ideally be approved by a federal or state regulator, if not, it could lead to contaminant exposures, regulation violations, and potentially fines.  Although SMPs are becoming a common restriction with risk-based closures, there is currently no published US EPA or State guidance on what constitutes an approved SMP.  This article provides information on what a SMP should identify, what should be included in a SMP, and when a SMP should be prepared.

What Should a SMP Identify?

SMPs are necessary to control any potential exposure pathways at a Site where residual soil and groundwater contamination is present and allowed to remain in place.  Each SMP will be different because the SMP should be tailored to Site-specific conditions.  For a SMP to be approved by a regulator, it should, at a minimum, identify the following the information:

  • Define the area and extent of residual contamination left in place;
  • Outline the baseline health and safety provisions that are necessary to prevent potential exposure; and,
  • Provide plans to characterize, monitor, and manage any impacts that may potentially become uncovered pursuant to Federal, State, and Local law.

What Should Be Included in a SMP?

The SMP needs to effectively communicate the above information to the contractors and site personnel prior to the soil disturbance/redevelopment activities begin.  Although there is no US EPA guidance on what needs to be included in a SMP, it should contain the following information to be approved by a regulator:

  • Site background information
  • Identify remaining impacts left on-Site
  • Summary of proposed work (if known)
  • Organizational structure and management personnel responsibilities
  • Health and safety provisions
  • Excavation work plan activities
  • Dewatering activities, if shallow groundwater is present
  • Soil and groundwater screening/monitoring procedures
  • Stockpile management procedures
  • Decontamination plans for personnel and heavy equipment
  • Waste determination and characterization
  • Waste transport and disposal protocol
  • Other potential environmental restrictive covenants on the property
  • Odor control plan (if necessary)
  • Dust control and monitoring plan (if necessary)

Depending on Site-specific conditions, a SMP may include additional information and be more in-depth.  For instance, a Site located in a rural area where a heating oil tank spill occurred will have a different SMP than a Site where a former dry cleaners operated in downtown New York City.  Although SMPs may vary, the most important objective is to prevent potential exposure of any on-Site workers, neighbors, and/or Site visitors during redevelopment activities, and ensure that current and future exposure pathways are controlled.  Accurate record-keeping is important to demonstrate to the regulatory agency that the SMP was properly followed.

When Should a SMP Be Prepared?

SMPs can be prepared during the Site closure process as part of an environmental restrictive covenant (ERC) on the property or prior to redevelopment activities.  Based on recent experiences, it is becoming more common to prepare the SMP as part of the closure process; therefore, it can be reviewed and approved by the regulatory agency.  However, if a SMP does not already exist for the property, there is value in producing a SMP before any redevelopment activities occurs, because the SMP can be written specifically for the proposed construction activities.  A SMP that was previously approved during the closure process may need to be updated prior to redevelopment activities to account for any new property conditions and the proposed construction plans.


With the increased frequency of risk-based closures, the use of ERCs on properties is becoming more common.  When residual soil and groundwater contamination is left in place, an ERC will typically require an approved SMP before any soil disturbance can be performed.  Although there is no currently published US EPA or State guidance on what constitutes a SMP, it should include enough information to identify and manage the impacted areas in order to control the risks and prevent exposures. If you have additional questions about SMPs, do not hesitate to contact us, we are happy to assist you!  Also, please sign-up for our upcoming webinar on this topic to learn more about understanding and preparing SMPs. 

To learn more about soil management plans, click here to register for the webinar on March 31.

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