Shawnigan contaminated-soil dump opponents head to court

Opponents of a contaminated-soil dump near Shawnigan Lake are taking their fight to B.C. Supreme Court.

Fearing that toxins from the site will leach into the area’s water supply, the Shawnigan Residents’ Association and the Cowichan Valley Regional District have announced separate court actions against the project.

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“Maybe the government has misunderstood our determination to fight this,” said Calvin Cook, president of the non-profit residents’ association. “It’s just too critical to our community.”

The association has filed a court petition seeking to overturn a March 20 decision of the Environmental Appeal Board and cancel a B.C. government permit.

The permit allows South Island Aggregates to receive up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year at a quarry on Stebbings Road owned by Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd.

Failing the cancellation of the permit, the association wants the court to order a new hearing before a different panel of the appeal board.

The petition argues that the first panel was biased against the residents’ association and made a number of unreasonable or erroneous findings.

“We didn’t feel that we got a fair hearing out of that and that is what our lawyer is challenging,” said Al Brunet, association director. “We felt that there were far, far too many inconsistencies.”

The Cowichan Valley Regional District, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that it will ask the B.C. Supreme Court to enforce a bylaw that prohibits a contaminated-soil landfill in a forestry zone.

The district argues that local governments have the legal authority to regulate land use according to community interests, and that provincial legislation cannot simply override local laws. “The activities that are proposed and now happening at the site are actually not allowed under CVRD land-use bylaws,” said area director Sonia Furstenau.

The petition also seeks an injunction to prevent South Island Aggregates and Cobble Hill Holdings from using the site to store or treat contaminated soil.

Mike Kelly, president of Cobble Hill Holdings, issued a statement expressing disappointment with the court actions.

“This application follows one of the longest and most extensive Environmental Appeal Board hearings to date, which upheld the decision of the Ministry of Environment,” he said, adding the latest actions are “politically motivated.”

Kelly said the legal challenge means district residents will “continue to pay millions more in outside legal fees, while much needed infrastructure projects go unfunded.” He also accused the Shawnigan Residents’ Association of misdirecting “their apparent concern for Shawnigan Lake” while ignoring real threats like failing septic systems, motorized vessels and “a struggling local economy.”

Kelly called the residents’ court challenge a “rehash” of unsuccessful arguments made before the appeal board, and said the company’s legal team will decide how to proceed.

“We have instructed that they consider all available options, including civil litigation against individuals and organizations found to be interfering with our operating business,” he said.

The court actions follow a protest at the B.C. legislature last week and the tabling of a petition signed by more than 15,000 people. “I think it just really shows the commitment that the residents of Shawnigan Lake have and our united opposition to this permit,” Cook said Wednesday.

“When we look at decisions being made that impact so many and benefit so few, it does make us question the process.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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