Shawnigan Lake soil dump decision expected next week

It will likely be next week before B.C.’s Ministry of Environment decides whether to suspend or reduce operations at a contaminated-soil landfill near Shawnigan Lake.

The ministry said Friday that it will review a submission from the site’s owners before making any decision. It offered no timeline, but promised to act “expeditiously.”

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“The ministry will make its decision public subsequent to providing notification to the company,” the statement said.

Mike Kelly, president of property-owner Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd., said the company replied to the ministry before the 4:30 p.m. Friday deadline.

“We look forward to the ministry reply,” he said.

The ministry sent the company a letter this week raising concerns about its ability to comply with a permit to store up to 100,000 tonnes of soil a year in the Stebbings Road quarry.

“Specifically, concerns have been raised regarding the permitee’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 said.

The company was asked to submit information on its efforts to comply with the permit.

The ministry letter came after Island Health issued a do-no-use-water advisory for the south end of Shawnigan Lake due to a suspected overflow of surface water at the landfill property on Nov. 13.

The advisory was lifted Tuesday after ministry tests determined there was no threat to human or aquatic life from the runoff. Inspectors also found no evidence that the runoff came into contact with contaminated soil at the site.

They did, however, determine that the company failed to comply with the permit by allowing surface water to escape the property rather than channelling it into a settling pond.

The company, meanwhile, said there was no breach of containment, discharge or overflow, and that its containment and treatment systems were functioning as designed.

But Cowichan Valley NDP MLA Bill Routley said the ministry should be taking a harder line.

“They should have immediately called for a timeout,” he said, adding that the ministry appears to be relying on Shawnigan Lake residents to report infractions at the site.

“The compliance and enforcement that the ministry should be doing is now being done by the community,” he said.

“What that shows is that the Ministry of Environment has cut back so far, they don’t have boots on the ground — they don’t have the staff.”

B.C. Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver said it’s time Environment Minister Mary Polak got involved in the dispute.

“This isn’t over,” he said. “Even if compliance is met temporarily, the questions will be raised: What’s going to happen next? When is it going to happen again?”

Shawnigan residents have been fighting the landfill for years, fearing that contaminants will leach from the site and flow downhill to the lake, polluting their water supply. Protesters have been outside the site all week, waving signs and occasionally blocking trucks from entering or leaving the landfill.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Darren Lagan said the force strives to remain impartial in such cases.

He said officers have reached out to the protesters “in an attempt to facilitate their right to lawful protest,” while still maintaining public safety and making sure the protesters do not impede the lawful activities of other people and businesses.

“When they have been impeded, we have made efforts to negotiate a peaceful end to the situation, which we’ve successfully done on multiple occasions in recent weeks,” Lagan said.

“Diplomacy and communication have thus far enabled us to support negotiated ends to the road blockades that have been set up, with the exception of last week’s situation where a negotiated end was unattainable, and two arrests were made.”

Lagan said both sides in the dispute have, for the most part, co-operated with police and conducted themselves in a safe and lawful manner. “The patience and professionalism shown by the vast majority of those involved on both sides of this situation is appreciated,” he said.

lkines@timescolonist.com

Shawnigan

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