Green MLA calls for shutdown of Shawnigan soil landfill

B.C. Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver wants the provincial government to shut down a contaminated-soil landfill near Shawnigan Lake in light of a new engineering report.

Weaver said the report, prepared for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, raises “serious concerns” about ongoing operations at the Stebbings Road landfill owned by Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd.

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He said the report indicates that stormwater runoff is bypassing the site’s sediment pond and running underneath it onto CVRD property.

“When the water is clearly leaving the site and it’s clearly not supposed to, that’s a problem,” Weaver said. “That’s a big problem and that’s the worst fears of the residents of the region.”

The Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA said government officials “need to shut it down now,” rescind the permit and order an immediate investigation.

“Maybe they can fix it, maybe they can’t,” he said. “But the report is very damning.”

Mike Kelly, president of Cobble Hill Holdings, could not be reached Tuesday. The company’s lawyer, John Alexander, had yet to see the report, so was unable to comment.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District hired Thurber Engineering Ltd. following a suspected overflow of stormwater from the landfill during heavy rainfall on Nov. 13.

Thurber conducted a visual inspection of the site on Nov. 19 from CVRD property adjacent to the landfill.

The firm’s report states that an engineer was able to assess part of the site’s water management system and observed that the sediment pond basin “is relatively porous and only able to hold water for relatively short periods of time following heavy rainfall.”

The report notes that the pit contained no visible standing water despite more than 80 millimetres of rain falling during the previous week. In addition, it appeared that runoff stormwater from the site was “bypassing the sediment pond (i.e. by flowing under it) and is being discharged directly onto the land owned by the CVRD,” the report said.

The engineering firm recommended a more detailed assessment of current water management practices at the landfill and advised the CVRD to alert the Ministry of Environment about the report’s observations and concerns.

CVRD director Sonia Furstenau said the report was sent to the ministry on Tuesday.

“The ministry needs to take its responsibilities seriously,” she said. “Its mandate is to protect the environment, not the business interests of one company.

“The residents of Shawnigan deserve to have their drinking water protected, and it is incumbent on this government to do so.”

The ministry is currently considering whether to suspend or reduce operations at the landfill after raising concerns about the operator’s ability to comply with a permit to store up to 100,000 tonnes of soil a year.

The ministry sent Cobble Hill Holdings a letter last month after Island Health issued a do-not-use-water advisory for the south end of Shawnigan Lake following the suspected overflow Nov. 13. The water advisory was lifted after ministry tests determined there was no threat to human or aquatic health.

Inspectors, however, said the company failed to comply with its permit by allowing surface water to escape the property rather than channelling it into a settling pond.

The company said there was no breach of containment, discharge or overflow, and that its containment and treatment systems functioned as designed.

The ministry has given no indication of when it will issue a final decision.

Weaver said the delay is another example of the ministry’s “dereliction” of duty.

“The government is there to look after the interests of the people who put the government in office,” he said. “Where are they?”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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