Shawnigan Lake residents and politicians armed with what they say is mounting evidence that a contaminated-soil facility is not fully complying with provincial regulations held a demonstration outside the Stebbings Road site on Thursday.
The site is owned by Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. and South Island Aggregates Ltd., and operated by South Island Resource Management Ltd.
The Environment Ministry issued Cobble Hill Holdings a permit in 2013 to receive and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year at its quarry.
That permit was upheld by the Environmental Appeal Board in 2015, but has been subject to court challenges by the Cowichan Valley Regional District and residents who fear contaminants could leach from the site and pollute their drinking water. In May, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld a decision to allow limited dumping at the site until a full appeal is heard in August.
At Thursday’s protest, Sonia Furstenau, who represents Shawnigan Lake at the CVRD, held up photos taken since June 24 of alleged contraventions at the site — including what appears to be liquid leaking from a soil-management area and folds, cracks, tears, patches and excavator track marks on the liners for new cells that will contain the soil.
She also had a June 28 warning letter sent to Cobble Hill Holdings by the Ministry of Environment.
“It lays out quite clearly the water-treatment facilities at this site are not up to speed — they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Furstenau said.
The letter says a review of the site, completed on June 24 under the province’s waste discharge permit, “determined that [Cobble Hill Holdings] is out of compliance with the permit,” citing about seven sections under the Environmental Management Act.
Laura Hunse, environmental protection officer, requests that Cobble Hill “immediately implement the necessary changes or modifications to correct these non-compliances” and let the office know within 30 days what measures are being taken to prevent similar incidents.
“Sampling and inspections to date have found no concerns for human health or the environment,” said Environment Ministry spokesman David Karn.
The ministry said its warning letter and inspection report identified concerns with regard to water management and a failure to submit information, plans and specifications, certified by a qualified professional, as requested.
It set out additional permit requirements telling the company “to submit non-contact and contact water management reviews/reports certified by an independent qualified professional, and to carry out the recommendations of the reports by October 31, 2016 (before the fall/winter high precipitation period),” Karn said in an email.
Ministry staff believe there are no issues with the company’s contact water management systems, but an independent review has been initiated, Karn said.
The ministry is also proceeding with a water-quality monitoring study downstream of the site. It will be carried out by an independent third party.
South Island Resource Management Ltd. said in a statement that the issues raised by the Environment Ministry “were identified through our vigilant testing and transparent reporting procedures.”
The company said the issues pose no significant threat to the environment and it is working to resolve them “within the prescribed timeframe.”
Critics say that isn’t good enough.
“We say as a community eight months of non-compliances with a water-treatment system at a contaminated-soil landfill at the headwaters of our watershed is unacceptable,” Furstenau said.
B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said “enough is enough” asking at what point is the Environment Ministry will stand up for the people of Vancouver Island.
Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP MLA Doug Routley said the quarry’s operating licence should be pulled until it is in full compliance to restore public confidence: “Whether this is acceptable or not it hasn’t been proven by the operators satisfactorily.”