Green MLA pursues deeper probe of Shawnigan soil dump

B.C. Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver continues to urge the government to investigate a controversial dump site near Shawnigan Lake.

Weaver announced in July that his own tests showed elevated levels of heavy metals in sediments downstream of the Stebbings Road property known as Lot 21, which is owned by Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd.

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The Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA said the findings raise questions about the materials buried there and whether they pose a future risk to humans and the environment.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said in an interview.

“I just think that these questions need to be answered. They cannot be answered by ignoring them.”

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak, who met with Weaver last week, said her ministry followed up with him and takes no issue with his findings. But she said the ministry, which did its own testing, remains confident that Lot 21 poses no immediate risk to water quality or aquatic life.

“There’s nothing right now — on the site, coming off the site — there’s nothing right there that’s of any immediate concern,” she said.

Weaver, however, said the ministry has yet to determine what was dumped on the property in the past and whether it could pose a threat in the future.

He said the lingering doubts about Lot 21 undermine the public’s confidence in the adjacent property, known as Lot 23, where Cobble Hill Holdings has a permit to accept and store up to 100,000 tonnes a year of contaminated soil in a quarry.

The Environmental Appeal Board upheld that permit on appeal, but the Shawnigan Residents Association is seeking a judicial review, fearing that contaminants from Lot 23 will leach into their water supply.

“You’re not going to get a social licence for a project if there are outstanding questions,” Weaver said.

“The question is: What’s happened historically? … Those questions need to be asked before we’re going to get a social licence there — if ever.”

Weaver has suggested that taking deeper “core samples” on Lot 21 is the only way to identify the materials buried there.

But Polak said in an interview that it would be “wildly impractical” to do that.

“The size of the site and scope of it — it would be virtually impossible to conduct core sampling unless you want to dig up the whole site,” she said.

Instead, Polak said, her ministry plans to reach out to the Cowichan Valley Regional District to discuss the possibility of regular monitoring in and around Lot 21.

That way, she said, if contaminant levels rise or become an issue in the future, “you capture it and deal with it before it became a problem.”

With regards to Lot 23, Polak said the ministry remains confident that the permit and accompanying conditions make it “perfectly safe.”

“If they do what they’re supposed to do in the permit, it should never be of a concern,” she said.

Mike Kelly, president of Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd., has said previously that the ministry’s test results show that the properties are clean and that the company has been responsibly managing the land and the environment for the past nine years.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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