Shawnigan soil site gets green light from government

In a statement released Friday, the ministry said Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. is complying with its permit to receive and treat up to 100,000 tonnes of soil a year under the Environmental Management Act.

“The ministry will continue to monitor the site closely,” the statement said. “To-date samples have shown no concerns for human health or environmental impacts.”

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The ministry told the company Nov. 18 that it was considering suspending or reducing operations after surface water escaped from the site during a storm five days earlier.

“Concerns have been raised regarding the permittee’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 has since provided additional information and met with ministry officials, and government inspectors have visited the property and taken samples on numerous occasions, the ministry said.

“After reviewing the information provided to date, as well as a follow-up inspection by the ministry conducted on Dec. 2, the ministry is satisfied that the permittee is currently taking reasonable steps to address the water management concerns which were raised in mid-November,” Jennifer McGuire, the executive director of the regional operations branch, said Thursday in a letter to the company.

Mike Kelly, president of Cobble Hill Holdings, issued a brief statement saying the company is reviewing the letter.

The ministry said its staff believe there are no issues with the site’s system of managing water that comes in contact with contaminated soil on the site, but an independent review will nevertheless assess how water is managed on the property.

Neither Environment Minister Mary Polak nor anyone else from the ministry was made available to answer questions Friday.

The ministry faced renewed calls to close the landfill following a suspected overflow of water from the site Nov. 13. Island Health issued a do-not-use-water advisory for the south end of Shawnigan Lake. The advisory was lifted a few days later after the Environment Ministry determined there was no threat to human or aquatic health.

The water advisory fuelled opposition to the site among area residents, who have been fighting for months to close the facility uphill from Shawnigan Lake. They fear contaminants will leach from the landfill and pollute their water supply.

B.C. Green MLA Andrew Weaver expressed disappointment Friday that the ministry didn’t put more weight on an engineering report, prepared for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, that raised concerns about water management at the site.

“Why is the government doubling down and not standing back and reflecting on what’s happening here?” he asked. “They are elected to look out for the interests of the public.”

Cowichan Valley NDP MLA Bill Routley said area residents have lost faith in the Ministry of Environment and called on the government to order an independent investigation.

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