A rock quarry near Shawnigan Lake can resume receiving and storing contaminated soil under a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling released Thursday.
In a defeat for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the court overturned an earlier decision that halted shipments of soil to the Stebbings Road quarry on the grounds that it was operating as a landfill in violation of a district zoning bylaw.
The court of appeal found, however, that the quarry is a mine and that the province — not the regional district — has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate mining activities. The court said the mining activities include filling the quarry cavity with contaminated soil as a way to “reclaim” the site.
John Alexander, the lawyer representing quarry owner Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd., said the decision “clears the way, at least for now, to get this operation back up and running.”
He said the ruling has provincial importance because it clarifies that local governments do not have jurisdiction over mining activities.
“It’s a significant decision for this quarry and for all quarries in the province,” he said.
Victoria lawyer Kelly Doerksen, who represents the site’s operator, South Island Resource Management, said his client was pleased with the outcome.
“It has always been their position that it’s the province, not the [Cowichan Valley Regional District], that has the jurisdiction to regulate mining activity at the quarry — including site reclamation activities,” he said. “So this is a vindication of a sort for my client’s position.”
Sonia Furstenau, who represents the Shawnigan area on the CVRD, said she was “deeply disappointed and saddened” by the ruling.
She and many other Shawnigan residents fear contaminants stored in the quarry eventually will leach from the site and pollute the nearby lake and people’s drinking water.
“For 41/2 years, our community has been abundantly clear that we do not accept the risk of a contaminated landfill in our watershed,” she said.
“It is disheartening that the court of appeal has denied the CVRD’s ability to determine land use in our region.”
Alexander said it will take a while before the site will begin accepting soil again after being dormant for months.
“The operator, South Island Resource Management, will presumably now tell its customers that it can accept contaminated soil from around the south Island,” he said.
“There are a number of big projects underway where people are looking to get rid of the kind of soil that can go there — subject to reopening the quarry.”
The Ministry of Environment 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. The permit was upheld by the Environmental Appeal Board in 2015, but the Shawnigan Residents’ Association is seeking to overturn that decision in a separate court case. A ruling is expected shortly.