Rally decries Shawnigan Lake contaminated-soil landfill

Shawnigan Lake residents have resumed ongoing protests against a contaminated-soil landfill in advance of a court case next week aimed at overturning the site’s permit.

More that 200 people massed outside the Stebbings Road property on Wednesday to highlight their concerns about a potential threat to their water supply in the nearby lake.

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As happened previously, the protesters prevented two trucks from entering the site, prompting a visit by at least four RCMP officers. No arrests were made.

Late in the morning, a small group of about 20 people marched through the site’s open gates, apparently intent on taking a tour of the quarry, before being turned back by workers.

South Island Resource Management Ltd., which operates the landfill, issued a statement accusing the group of trespassing.

“When the individuals entered the active mine, they placed themselves and our employees in danger, forcing us to shut down our operation to protect their safety,” the company said.

“We believe the actions of these unauthorized individuals also violate the terms of the court order ‘preventing any stopping, blocking or impeding, with or without motor vehicles or otherwise, the use of or access to’ the mine.”

The company said it would take all reasonable lawful action to stop “dangerous and harmful behaviour” that puts its employees and others at risk.

While the protest continued, the Save Shawnigan Water Community Action Group arranged for politicians to fly over the site in a helicopter to illustrate the landfill’s proximity to Shawnigan Lake.

“It is about awareness,” said Calvin Cook, president of the Shawnigan Residents Association. “So many people still aren’t aware of the challenges we’re facing.

“We’re saying that the science designed to prevent something from happening will fail.”

Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd., which owns the property, has a permit to store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year at the property. The Environmental Appeal Board upheld the permit last March, but the case will be reviewed by a B.C. Supreme Court judge next week.

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver were among the politicians on hand Wednesday.

Horgan said he wanted to join with community members and other politicians to send a clear message to the government that it should pull the permits until there is a clear understanding of the project’s consequences.

“This is as broad a cross-section of people you’re going to find on any issue that I’ve ever encountered in my 25 years in public life,” he said. “So it strikes me that the government should recognize that.”

Weaver, who planned to take water samples from a stream running off the site, called the government’s handling of the file “an unmitigated disaster.”

“The role of government is to actually look out for the public good,” he said. “Right now, the public is trying to look out for its own good and the government is actually there putting in roadblocks and barriers, I would argue.”

The Ministry of Environment countered Wednesday that the initial decision to issue a permit was made by a technical expert, “independent of any political process.”

The ministry said its staff have responded to several claims in recent weeks that the site is violating its permit. “The ministry will continue to monitor the site closely; to-date samples have shown no concerns for human health or environmental impacts.”

South Island Resource Management said in its statement that it upholds high standards of environmental safety and stewardship.

“We are fully compliant with the Ministry of Environment waste-discharge permit and with the Ministry of Mines permit,” the company said. “There is no quantifiable risk from the site to human health in the Shawnigan Lake watershed and we continue to hope that reasonable debate will prevail.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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