Ban on contaminated soil site near Shawnigan partially lifted

Operators of the site can fulfil six contracts that were already in place March 21 when a lower court issued two injunctions against further dumping, the court ruled Friday.

The decision allows South Island Resource Management to receive about $5.6 million for depositing 106,000 tonnes of soil at the site.

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The appeal court decision does not apply to contracts for which the operators submitted bids before or after March 21.

Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. and South Island Aggregates Ltd., which own the property, and South Island Resource Management Ltd., which operates the site, have appealed a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found the quarry contravenes a regional zoning bylaw.

Pending the appeal, the companies also applied to stay a pair of injunctions that prevented them from accepting contaminated soil at the quarry and using it as a landfill.

The companies argued that the quarry is the only site on Vancouver Island receiving contaminated soil on a regulated basis and that it’s in the public interest to prevent illegal dumping.

South Island Resource Management also said that up to 80 jobs would be affected if the injunctions remained in place and it warned that the company might be forced into bankruptcy.

Justice Pamela Kirkpatrick sided with the companies, ruling that a partial stay of the injunctions was preferable to “forestall the potential closure, bankruptcy, or foreclosure” of the companies.

“In my view, such a stay is also in the public interest in that it protects against the spectre of an orphan site and illegal dumping of contaminated soils,” she said.

The partial stay of the injunctions will remain in place until the full appeal of the B.C. Supreme Court decision can be heard in August.

Victoria lawyer John Alexander, who acts for Cobble Hill Holdings and South Island Aggregates, welcomed the ruling, saying “it allows prior committed and scheduled work on many clean-up projects on the lower Island to proceed, and it preserves the jobs that a significant number of families in the south Shawnigan area count on.”

South Island Resource Management said it will abide by the conditions of the appeal court decision, which calls for the appellants to post $25,000 as security for the costs of court proceedings.

“We continue to legally operate the mine, manage the material already on site and remain in compliance with all government-issued permits,” the company said.

The Ministry of Environment issued Cobble Hill Holdings a permit in 2013 to receive and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year at its rock quarry on Stebbings Road. The permit was upheld by the Environmental Appeal Board in 2015, but has been subject to a number of court challenges.

In his ruling last month, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Brian MacKenzie concluded that the site is being operated as a landfill, which is not a permitted use for the property under Cowichan Valley Regional District zoning bylaws.

Sonia Furstenau, area director with the regional district, expressed surprise and disappointment at the appeal court decision Friday.

“It’s hugely disappointing for the community,” she said. “And, for me, it’s very surprising to see the stay put in place, given the ruling from Justice MacKenzie seemed abundantly clear that this was a non-permitted use.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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