Malahat First Nation may rethink backing for landfill near Shawnigan


The Malahat First Nation says it may reconsider its support for a contaminated-soil landfill near Shawnigan Lake unless the B.C. government can show that it has independently reviewed the project.

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The band’s newly-elected chief and councillors have written to Environment Minister Mary Polak seeking assurances that her office has re-assessed the scientific information that it relied upon to issue a permit for the Stebbings Road quarry.

“If the ministry is unable to provide the requested information or has not undertaken an independent reassessment, the Nation must reconsider its position on the permit,” states the letter, signed by Chief Caroline Harry and all three councillors.

The First Nation says it based its earlier support for the project on the understanding that the permit application was supported by independent science. It noted, however, that “serious concerns” have been raised about the relationship between the landfill’s owner, Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd., and Active Earth Engineering, which did the technical assessment of the site.

The Shawnigan Residents’ Association, which is trying to overturn the permit, has alleged in court documents that Cobble Hill Holdings had a secret partnership agreement with Active Earth. The allegations have not been proved in court. Cobble Hill Holdings has previously said in a statement that the agreement was never acted upon. The case will go to a judicial review in January.

In a statement on Thursday, Cobble Hill Holdings president Mike Kelly said the quarry and the engineering work was reviewed independently by the Ministry of Environment before it granted the company a permit to receive up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year. The Environmental Appeal Board upheld the permit this year.

“The Malahat people were at the long review hearing and have a copy of the 123-page report that reviews absolutely every detail of the permit engineering,” he said.

Active Earth said in a separate statement it advanced the permit application on behalf of Cobble Hill Holdings “in accordance with appropriate professional standards.

“The science underlying the permit application has been closely scrutinized and found to be sound,” the statement said. “Recent events and, in particular, community concerns have prompted further investigation that has, once again, corroborated the satisfactory nature of the engineering underlying the landfill operation.”

The Malahat, however, want assurances that the government re-examined all the information following the recent allegations. “They want to be assured that the province has done its due diligence and that that science is sound,” Lawrence Lewis, Malahat’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “What we’re asking the minister to do is to actually provide us with the science to verify that the site is safe.”

The Ministry of Environment said the First Nation’s letter has been forwarded to the senior bureaucrat and statutory decision maker “as permitting and compliance issues are under the purview of ministry staff independent of any political process.”

The ministry said it will provide the Malahat with the original information submitted by Active Earth, testing and monitoring results from the site and details of the soils being deposited at the site.

“At this time the permit — amended in accordance with the Environmental Appeal Board's decision — remains valid,” the ministry said. “The issue raised in the letter is currently before the courts and we cannot comment any further on the matter.”

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