Ministry considers suspending Shawnigan contaminated-soil landfill

B.C.’s Ministry of Environment is considering suspending or reducing operations at a contaminated-soil landfill near Shawnigan Lake after surface water escaped from the site during a storm last week.

The ministry said it sent owner Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. a warning letter Wednesday, raising concerns about the company’s ability to comply with a permit to store up to 100,000 tonnes of soil a year in the Stebbings Road quarry.

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“Specifically, concerns have been raised regarding the permittee’s ability to ensure that all surface water (contact and non-contact water) is contained on the property and treated in accordance with the permit,” the letter states.

The company has until 4:30 p.m. today to provide the ministry with information on its efforts to comply with the permit.

Cobble Hill’s president, Mike Kelly, said the company is working on a response to the province and will issue a statement today.

The company said earlier in the week that the landfill’s containment and treatment systems were functioning as designed.

“There was no breach of containment, discharge or overflow,” the statement said. “Heavy rainfall events were anticipated and incorporated into the site water-management design.”

The ministry’s letter comes after Island Health issued a do-not-use-water advisory for the south end of Shawnigan Lake last Friday due to a suspected overflow of water at the landfill site.

The advisory was lifted Tuesday once ministry tests found no threat to human or aquatic life from surface water run-off. Inspectors said there was no evidence that the water came into contact with contaminated soil at the site.

The ministry did find that the company failed to comply with its permit by allowing surface water to escape the property rather than channelling it into a settling pond. In addition, inspectors said Cobble Hill Holdings failed to notify the ministry immediately upon discovering the discharge.

“This is a warning that escalating compliance response is expected if the non-compliance continues,” the inspection report said.

In a statement to the Times Colonist, the ministry said that “compliance with the permit is expected, and given the recent public health advisory, the ministry is seeking to ensure that compliance is maintained to ensure public health and protection of the environment.”

Sonia Furstenau, a director with the Cowichan Valley Regional District, welcomed the province’s response.

“I’m really pleased the ministry is taking these issues seriously,” she said.

Shawnigan residents have been fighting the landfill in court, fearing that its location uphill from the lake will result in contaminants leaching from the site and polluting their water supply.

Protesters blocked the entrance to the landfill Thursday morning before eventually allowing trucks to enter and drop off soil. Shawnigan RCMP said there were no arrests.

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