Blasting halted at South Island quarry after rocks land near park

The B.C. government has shut down blasting at a quarry run by South Island Aggregates after rocks landed in a “buffer zone” beside a park, the chief mines inspector said Wednesday.

Al Hoffman said “flyrock” from a blast last week at the Stebbings Road quarry entered a five-metre zone beside parkland owned by the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

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Hoffman said he was alerted by regional district area director Sonia Furstenau.

“Immediately, we sent an inspector. He shut down the operation and they can’t blast again until they submit an appropriate engineering plan to do that blasting,” he told reporters at the B.C. legislature.

Mike Kelly, president of quarry owner Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd., said South Island Aggregates hired an experienced, professioinal blasting company to undertake a blast on the edge of the quarry.

“Unfortunately, a few small rocks landed a few feet just outside our property line,” he said. “These stones were picked up within minutes of the blast and deposited on to our lands.”

He said there is also some rock within the buffer area that will be removed in the next few weeks.

It’s the second time in recent weeks that the Ministry of Energy and Mines has taken action against South Island Aggregates. In May, the ministry issued a stop-work order at a property adjacent to the quarry where South Island Aggregates was receiving fill or “capping material.” The quarry is known as Lot 23 and the adjacent property as Lot 21.

The order on Lot 21, which remains in effect, prohibits South Island Aggregates from receiving additional materials at the site.

The regional district has complained repeatedly about South Island Aggregates’ activities encroaching on district property.

Mines Minister Bill Bennett said that his office is aware that the company has “trespassed” on regional district land in the past. “But they’re not allowed to do that and my understanding is that we are actually taking enforcement action.”

The company and parent Cobble Hill Holdings are under intense scrutiny from local residents concerned about the storage of contaminated soil in the South Island Aggregates quarry on Lot 23 near Shawnigan Lake.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment granted the company a permit to accept up to 100,000 tonnes a year. The Environmental Appeal Board upheld the permit, but the Shawnigan Residents Association is seeking a judicial review, fearing that toxins from the site will leach into their water supply.

Furstenau said Wednesday that the June 16 incident raises further questions about South Island Aggregates’ ability or desire to obey rules. “It’s ongoing flagrant lack of compliance with their mining role,” she said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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