Updated: CVRD calls for moratorium on SIA application
The Cowichan Valley Regional District is calling on the Ministry of Environment for an immediate moratorium on South Island Aggregates’ application to use some contaminated soil as part of its quarry reclamation project in south Shawnigan.
The call comes from the district’s recently-formed soils relocation sub-committee, an offshoot of the regional services committee.
And the sub-committee is also calling for a CVRD-led public meeting on SIA’s application, with attendance from the district, the company, plus the environment and mines ministries.
“We would like to see the Ministry of Environment extend the public consultation period on the SIA application until the end of November,” CVRD Chairman, and sub-committee member, Rob Hutchins said in a media release Thursday.
“Area residents right now are frustrated and don’t trust that their fears and concerns are being adequately heard. We at the regional district want to help with this process — that is why we will be convening an open public meeting as soon as it can be reasonably put together.”
SIA’s managing partner, Marty Block, was admittedly puzzled by the CVRD’s moratorium request.
“SIA has an application in front of the province, for a permit on our property to conduct business on our property,” he said. “It’s not a permit through the CVRD. It’s a provincial permit. If the CVRD has input and ideas we’re happy to listen to them, and maybe even implement a lot of them, but as for the moratorium (request), I don’t get it.”
But Shawnigan Lake Director Bruce Fraser said the moratorium would allow time for thorough public consultation.
“I think it would be a benefit to both the company and the local population,” he said Friday morning.
He pointed out that opposition to SIA’s project has been escalating, even before the acts of arson and vandalism at the Stebbings Road site earlier this week.
Pink spray-paint spelled out ‘No’ and other, less savoury words at SIA, but unknown culprits also torched a piece of equipment worth more than $300,000.
“It’s a sort of mobile conveyor system used to load aggregate onto barges,” said Fraser, who toured the damage this week. “It’s one of their most expensive machines.”
Block says he’s just moving past the damage, thankful that no one was injured and that the arson didn’t cause a forest fire.
Perhaps it’s fueled a different kind of fire, though.
“It (the contaminated soil issue) has continued to escalate, and of course with the vandalism and arson at the site, it raises the temperature for everybody,” Fraser said. “It’s time to take a time-out here, cool down and not rush this.
“If (the ministry) makes a decision in a hurry quite likely it will be the wrong one. It’s much better to take the time, let temperatures cool a bit and let people have a thorough opportunity for consultation, without feeling under the gun.”
He also defended the CVRD’s involvement in the debate.
“(SIA) chose to go the open house route, and that was probably not adequate given the degree of public interest,” he said.
“The problem with an open house is that people ask serious questions but they’re the only ones who hear the answers. There needs to be a really thorough public hearing where everyone hears what’s said.”
And he feels the CVRD can ensure this process happens.
“As a public official, you’re responsible for fair, due process — not jumping to conclusions but being careful to hear all sides and make sure the public has an opportunity to speak.”
The contaminated soils sub-committee’s recommendations go to the CVRD board during the next regular meeting, June 13.
However, the CVRD's request may be moot.
Ministry of Environment communications officer Suntanu Dalal explained in an email to the News Leader Pictorial late Friday afternoon that the ministry has no legal authority to place a moratorium on applications, and has a legal obligation to consider the application.
"The ministry is confident that the South Island Aggregates authorization process will provide sufficient opportunity for public concerns to be identified and addressed," he wrote.
"The ministry’s review continues, and a further public meeting is currently being organized by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, Ministry of Environment and South Island Aggregates.
"The ministry will continue to consider requests received from stakeholders, and seek further clarification as needed to ensure concerns can be addressed through the application process that is currently underway," he added.
"Regional districts have mechanisms to control land use through zoning and bylaws."