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Expansion plans on hold for Bamberton foreshore; group has worries about impact on environment

Map of existing and proposed foreshore lease at Bamberton.

The Malahat First Nation’s plan to expand its foreshore lease at Bamberton on the Saanich Inlet is on hold while the province considers if the project should undergo an environmental assessment.

The province’s Environmental Assessment Office is considering an application submitted last month by the Saanich Inlet Protection Society for an environmental review of expansion of the lease, and of a quarry on the Bamberton site.

The Malahat First Nation intends to expand the area of its existing quarry and nearly double its annual production, as well as increasing its foreshore lease to allow it to expand industrial operations along Saanich Inlet.

An environmental review process would delay and possibly force the cancellation of those plans.

The society, which has raised concerns over both projects, called the temporary hold on expansion a small win given that it only stumbled across the plans this fall.

In its application letter, the society says the projects “create significant environmental risk and have not been properly assessed for their potential environmental, economic, social, cultural and health impacts on Saanich Inlet, the surrounding lands and the people who live here.”

According to a management plan for the foreshore, prepared alongside the application to the Ministry of Forests, the Malahat First Nation proposes to extend the lease — which it has held since 1989 — for another 30-year period to allow for future use.

While the report suggests future use in the short-term would only involve repairing four aging pilings, it could also include loading and unloading barges of contaminated soils, creosote piles, cement powder, scrap metal, aggregate and fuels.

The report says the contaminated material would be stored at an appropriate upland location and not on the foreshore.

The Malahat First Nation has asked the province to reject the Saanich Inlet Protection Society’s application, arguing the expansion applications are in compliance with existing regulations and laws.

The Malahat’s submission also said the likely environmental effects are negligible and the designation would not be in the public interest and would be contrary to advancing reconciliation.

Michael Simmons, a director with the Saanich Inlet Protection Society, said the surrounding communities felt blindsided by the projects and only stumbled on the expansion plans when a society member happened to notice signs during a walk in the area.

“The public notification was the bare minimum that is required by the regulations,” he said, adding there has been no meaningful engagement between the nation and the surrounding community.

That concern is shared by the Tsartlip First Nation, which faces the Bamberton lands across Saanich Inlet and also wants the Malahat Nation’s plans to be subject to an environmental review.

This week, Chief Don Tom wrote to the province requesting the environmental assessment, along with consultation with Tsartlip regarding the expansion projects, funding for the nation to participate in any consultation and a cumulative-effects study for Saanich Inlet.

Tom said the Tsartlip have not been consulted on the expansion, and any increased activity would have an impact on the nation’s hunting and fishing grounds.

“It is Tsartlip’s position that what little remains of access to, and availability of, preferred land and marine resources, must be protected,” Tom wrote. “Tsartlip members already struggle to sustain their physical and community social health as a result of diminishing access to traditional resources and sites.”

According to the province, the Bamberton projects don’t meet the threshold to automatically be considered reviewable by the Environmental Assessment Office.

The office is gathering feedback from the Saanich Inlet Protection Society, Malahat Nation, Malahat Investment Corporation, other First Nations, local governments in the area, and provincial government agencies before it makes a determination.

The public will have an opportunity in January to give input as part of the review.

While the application to expand the foreshore lease is on hold until the Environmental Assessment Office decides if the project is reviewable, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation is continuing to review the Malahat First Nation’s application to expand the quarry.

The public comment period for that review closed in November.

The Environmental Assessment Office is expected to make its determination on whether the projects are reviewable before the quarry review is complete.

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