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Shawnigan landfill owners seeking deadline extension

The owners of a contaminated landfill in Shawnigan Lake have told the B.C.
Protesters block the entrance to the contaminated-soil landfill site near Shawnigan Lake in January 2016

The owners of a contaminated landfill in Shawnigan Lake have told the B.C. government they can’t meet the deadline for setting up the testing and water-protection measures required as part of a closure plan that the community continues to insist is inadequate.

Cobble Hill Holdings has asked for an extension to the Oct. 31 deadline, said Environment Minister George Heyman.

“The proponent is telling us they are having trouble meeting the deadlines,” Heyman said. “We’re reviewing it to see if that’s a reasonable position.”

The contaminated-soil landfill is directly uphill from Shawnigan Lake, which is the source of drinking water for about 12,000 people. After court battles and a leak, the government revoked the landfill’s operating permit in 2017.

Heyman approved a closure plan for the site this year that required Cobble Hill Holdings to build “enhanced environmental monitoring,” two shallow groundwater-monitoring wells and a host of other requirements to be completed by the deadline.

But he did not require the company to remove almost 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil. That sparked an angry reaction from community residents worried the site — which leaked once in 2016 — could fail again and pollute Shawnigan Lake.

MLA Sonia Furstenau, who has spent years advocating cleanup of the site, said she has been warning the government for months that the company can’t be relied upon to meet its obligations. If the company goes bankrupt, or fails to meet the deadlines, the cost of securing and monitoring the site will fall on provincial taxpayers.

“The fact remains, however, that this is a company that has repeatedly violated conditions of its permits and ignored orders from government,” the Cowichan Valley Green MLA said in the legislature this week. “Not only that, this company has not been paying its property taxes on these two properties.

“By not enforcing the rules and continuing to grant extensions, it would appear that the message this government sends is that rules don’t matter, conditions mean nothing and deadlines are irrelevant.

“Government’s job is to protect the public interest, not the interests of one company. In Shawnigan, we have endured the interests of a company being put ahead of the well-being and health of our community for over seven years.”

Heyman said he hopes to make a decision on whether to extend the deadline soon.

“The one thing I can assure the residents is the protection of their water is paramount and whatever needs to be done to secure the site before the fall rains, whether it’s the full completion of the closure plan or certain interim measures, including more water-monitoring wells, will, in fact, take place,” said Heyman.

“We could make them do part of the work now and a full completion later. Those are the things I’m considering.”

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