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Vancouver Island Soil Dump Proposal 'Seems to Defy Logic'

Company's aim to unload contaminated soil near Shawnigan watershed prompts protests.

By Carly Rhianna Smith 11 Apr 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Carly Rhianna Smith is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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'The Shawnigan Lake community is wholeheartedly opposed to this proposal,' said Georgia Collins, who provided this photo from the area.

Residents of Shawnigan Lake and the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) protested Wednesday at the Ministry of Environment office in Victoria against a proposed contaminated soil dump in the Shawnigan watershed.

Shawnigan Creek runs through the site, flowing into Shawnigan Lake, about 50 kilometres north of Victoria. More than 7,000 people in the area get their drinking water from the lake.

The site is also on top of an aquifer, an underground supply of groundwater that can be extracted for drinking water.

"Great location," Cowichan Valley BC Liberal candidate Steve Housser facetiously said in an earlier interview.

"On the surface, it seems to defy logic."

South Island Aggregates Ltd. (SIA) applied for a permit to dump 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil annually into a gravel quarry near Shawnigan Lake. A draft permit was issued by the ministry in March. This was followed by two weeks of public consultation.

The public consultation period ended Tuesday, and many residents, politicians and professionals voiced their opposition during that time.

Wholehearted opposition to soil dump proposal

"We've been in communication over the year and letters have been written from every group in the community. The Shawnigan Lake community is wholeheartedly opposed to this proposal," said Georgia Collins, chair of the Shawnigan Watershed Roundtable.

All four political candidates in the Cowichan Valley riding have signed a letter stating their official opposition to the permit.

Active Earth Engineering Ltd. carried out a report on the site, which found it is safe to dump contaminated soil there. Furthermore, SIA has said that a landfill liner will be placed on the site before dumping as a safety measure.

However, numerous people involved have raised concerns about the fact that Active Earth was hired by SIA to do the report.

Housser said that they "used out-of-date mapping to come to a conclusion, what I think is a wrong conclusion, about the bedrock of the dump site."

At the request of the Shawnigan Residents' Association, engineer Dennis Lowen of Lowen Hydrogeology Consulting Ltd. did a report on the proposed site for the dump. Lowen has over 40 years of experience in hydrogeology (the study of the movement of groundwater, particularly aquifers).

He found that there was fractured bedrock under the quarry. He said that fractured bedrock is unpredictable and toxic chemicals from the contaminated soil could easily leak and get into the aquifer underneath.

"I've had quite a bit of experience and my interpretation of the data is different from [Active Earth's], so that difference of opinion should be resolved before [the application] goes ahead," said Lowen.

Lowen was initially hired by the Shawnigan Residents' Association to write the report. This year he decided to write a letter recapping his findings, because he says it is the ethical thing to do as an engineer.

"The water supply is put at risk for whose benefit? And in the long run who will suffer the impact and pay for the consequences?" he wondered.

Noting that the two studies came to vastly different conclusions, Cowichan Valley B.C. Green Party candidate Kerry Davis said "there should be an independent inquiry of some sort."

"Relying only on the engineering reports from a hired engineering group is inappropriate," said Collins.

Environment minister can deny application

On Wednesday an information picket was set up in Victoria at the B.C. Environment Ministry. Afterwards, Collins appeared alongside CVRD director Gerry Giles before the neighbouring Capital Regional District (CRD) board. They voted on a motion from Ben Isitt, Victoria city councillor and CRD director, to oppose the permit.

That new support demonstrates that it's not just residents of Shawnigan Lake who are affected by the controversial proposal.

"I think it's really important that we ought to stand together and we fall together," Isitt said in earlier interview.

Isitt brought the motion to the CRD board's attention after a formal request from the CVRD.

"I'm hopeful that the current minister will do the right thing and reject the permit based on all the concerns that have been raised," he said.

There is a process in place where a "statutory decision maker" is put in place to review permit applications. In this case it is Hubert Bunce, a bureaucrat within the Ministry of Environment in Nanaimo.

"The way that it's set up is that the process is to be followed from one end to the other for approval and it takes a real concerted effort to change that, although there are apparently things the minister can do," said Davis.

"Minister [Terry] Lake, even though he says he doesn't have the power, he does actually have the power and the tools to deny this permit," said Collins.

Even if the permit is approved, there is a 30-day window to file an appeal with the Environmental Appeal Board, which Collins said they would do.

"I'm still hopeful that the process will play out and sanity and science will prevail," said Housser.  [Tyee]

Read more: Environment

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