Dozens of people gathered to celebrate at Shawnigan House Coffee and Chocolate on Monday after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that a controversial contaminated-soil facility is contravening a regional zoning bylaw.
“All this hard work and protesting and planning and organizing — it’s a huge change to come together in celebration,” said Sonia Furstenau, the Shawnigan area representative for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, who called the court ruling a victory.
“It’s such a relief to have a decision go our way,” she said, adding residents have been fighting the soil-treatment facility for four years, but particularly the past year.
Residents fear the contaminated soil poses a threat to their drinking water, which comes from Shawnigan Lake.
The case was brought forward by the regional district and heard last November and December.
The property, owned by Cobble Hill Holdings and operated by South Island Resource Management, is zoned F1, with forestry as the primary use.
The court ruling includes an injunction against using the property for either a contaminated-soil facility or a landfill, but does not order removal of contaminated soil already on the site.
A statement from South Island Resource Management, which also operates a rock quarry, said it is complying with the court decision.
“We understand the owner, Cobble Hill Holdings, is considering an appeal of the decision,” the statement said. “It is important to understand this decision deals with only one aspect of our operation.
“We continue to operate the mine and manage material already on site.”
South Island Resource Management said it will have more to say in the future.
“Our legal counsel is reviewing the implications of [Monday’s] decision and once we have a full understanding of the impact to our operation, we will release a further statement.”
Furstenau said she is unsure about the next step.
“All I know is the Supreme Court decision is fully in our favour and says that this [contaminated-soil facility] is not a permitted land use, and that’s exactly what we were hoping for and what we’ve been contending all along.”
She said another court case involving the Shawnigan Residents’ Association is awaiting a decision.
“That was basically an appeal of the Environmental Appeal Board decision,” Furstenau said.
The appeal board ruling in March 2015 upheld the permit for the facility issued by the Ministry of Environment, which allows up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil per year to be received and stored at the facility.
In a statement Monday, the ministry said its staff will need to review the decision to fully understand its impact before providing further comment.
NDP Leader John Horgan said in a statement the court decision is welcome news that vindicates members of the Shawnigan Lake community who have been protesting. He said the B.C. government has refused to listen to people’s concerns about water issues.
“Hopefully, this Supreme Court decision will put a halt to this nonsense, and the [Christy] Clark government will assure residents that this sort of thing won’t happen again,” Horgan said.