Dumping tainted soil near Shawnigan Lake gets go-ahead

Aruling by the Environmental Appeal Board has cleared the way for South Island Aggregates to start receiving tonnes of contaminated soil at its facility near Shawnigan Lake.

Concerned the site could contaminate Shawnigan Lake, three area residents, the Shawnigan Lake Residents Association and the Cowichan Valley Regional District had appealed a B.C. Ministry of Environment permit granted to South Island Aggregates. It allowed the company to receive up to 100,000 tonnes a year of contaminated soil at a site on Stebbings Road.

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In a 147-page decision released Friday, the appeal board sided with the company, saying the permit should stand and a stay on operations should be rescinded.

“There is no question that water sources and other environmental values must be protected. Human health must be protected,” the decision says. “The panel has taken the appellants’ safety concerns very seriously. However, the panel ultimately finds that, on a balance of probabilities, the geology and hydrogeology of the site and the facility design, together with the permit conditions, will provide the required protections.”

South Island Aggregates principal Mike Kelly said he and partner Martin Block are pleased with the decision and expect to have the operation running within 90 days.

“We’re hoping that the community is assured with the decision of the appeal board that our operation is environmentally safe.”

Sonia Furstenau, who has fought the dumping as the regional district’s representative for Shawnigan, said she is devastated by the news.

“I’m in [Shawnigan Lake] village right now and people are walking around in shock,” she said Friday. “The word that almost everybody is saying is ‘unbelievable.’ We cannot believe that this is happening to our community. This is our drinking water we’re talking about.”

Furstenau said “all sorts of experts” expressed concerns at the board’s hearings. “I can tell you in the community nobody intends to give up on this.”

Residents’ association president Calvin Cook said he is “bitterly disappointed,” and called the soil site poorly conceived, poorly located and poorly executed. He said an appeal will be made through the courts.

The decision says many Shawnigan residents fear threats to the lake, their drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat. But it said there are environmental benefits from depositing contaminated soil in a regulated, approved facility as opposed to illegal dumping.

Among the board’s requirements:

• Blasting is prohibited during installation of cell liners or reuse of liners.

• A permanent roof must be constructed over the soil-management area within one year.

• Wheels of soil-transport vehicles must be rinsed before leaving the site.

Kelly called the directives manageable.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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