MLA calls for more stringent tests at Shawnigan dump sites

 

B.C. Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver says the provincial government merely skimmed the surface with tests that found no threat to drinking water or aquatic life at two controversial soil-dumping sites near Shawnigan Lake.

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Weaver is demanding deeper “core sampling” testing at one of the sites, known as Lot 21. He said his own tests have revealed elevated levels of heavy metals in sediments downstream of the Stebbings Road property.

“The only source of those samples is Lot 21,” Weaver told a public meeting in Mill Bay on Thursday.

“So it begs some very serious questions that the ministry has a duty and a responsibility to answer. And those questions are: What is buried in Lot 21?”

Weaver’s comments drew loud cheers from hundreds of Shawnigan Lake residents worried that material stored on Lot 21, as well as on the adjacent parcel known as Lot 23, will pollute their water supply.

The Ministry of Environment granted a permit to Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. to accept and store contaminated soil in a quarry on Lot 23.

The Environmental Appeal Board upheld the permit on appeal, but residents continue to raise concerns about materials stored at both sites.

The ministry says it conducted a series of soil and water tests at both sites in May that show no contaminant levels of concern for drinking water or aquatic life.

Mike Kelly, president of Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd., said the company’s directors are pleased with the ministry’s findings.

“Our property is clean, and the watercourses and the property that surround our property have no sign of contamination and are clean, too,” he said in a statement.

Kelly said the results show that Cobble Hill affiliate South Island Aggregates Ltd. has been responsibly managing the properties and the environment for the past nine years.

Weaver noted, however, that the ministry only tested the top 50 centimetres of soil and that the findings fail to explain the elevated levels of thorium, lead, chromium and other metals that he found downstream of Lot 21.

“I’m not claiming that in Shawnigan Creek, where dilution is very great, that you have any health hazards at all,” he said. “But there’s very clear evidence, from those sediment samples, that there’s some heavy metals, industrial metals, of some form upstream.”

The Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA, who said a number of his constituents have property on Shawnigan Lake, called on the ministry to take deep “core samples” in Lot 21 “to actually determine what is buried below the surface.”

Lori Halls, assistant deputy minister, said her staff will work with Weaver to get more information about his tests and how they were conducted.

“As new information comes to light, as new evidence is brought forward, you absolutely have the commitment of the ministry that we will follow up on that,” she said. “That includes MLA Weaver’s sampling results that he shared publicly today. There was no question and no hesitation by the ministry to do that.”

Calvin Cook, president of the Shawnigan Residents’ Association, and Sonia Furstenau, area director for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said residents remain skeptical about the ministry’s test results.

“They used ‘surficial’ as in, ‘of the surface,’ ” to describe the test results, Furstenau said. “I would suggest superficial would be a better adjective.”

Cook repeated Weaver’s call for core sampling on Lot 21. “Certainly a surface sampling isn’t adequate,” he said.

Kelly said Cobble Hill Holdings will co-operate fully with the ministry if it decides to conduct deep core sampling on Lot 21. He accused the Shawnigan Residents’ Association and Furstenau, whom he referred to as the association’s “mascot,” of ignoring scientific test results in favour of a “fear campaign.”

“Once again, the Shawnigan Lake Residents’ Association’s directors are continuing to look for a boogie man under the bed,” he said. “And once again, the testing results of today have proven squarely that he does not exist.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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