Dirty dirt dump gets draft OK
Draft approval of a contaminated soil dump and treatment site in the Shawnigan Lake watershed has intensified fear among Shawnigan Lake residents their drinking water could be polluted.
A draft permit released to the public by the Ministry of Environment yesterday is the first step in the approval of a controversial proposal that would allow South Island Aggregates Ltd. to store and treat soil in a lake-area quarry at 640 Stebbings Rd.
“It’ll render Shawnigan Lake useless and dead, and we can’t allow that,” resident Rick Restell said of the draft permit carrying a 14-day comment period to the environment ministry.
If that period turns up no new information, a permit is expected to be approved for the dumping of 100,000 tonnes of soil annually, pending a formal 30-day appeal period.
That permit would allow SIA to “receive, treat, utilize and landfill contaminated soil and ash to the cavity created by an advancing hard rock quarry.”
Industrial soil proposed for dumping and treatment must meet the most stringent applicable site specific facts defined in the Environmental Procedures Manual “considering groundwater used for drinking water, toxicity to soil invertebrates and plants and groundwater flow to surface water used by freshwater aquatic life,” the draft states.
Soils allowed for bio-remediation — in engineered, lined landfills cells to contain run-off — include those fouled with hydrocarbons (fuel), benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, styrene, and other compounds.
It is not clear how closely the draft permit mirrors SIA’s original application. Company spokesperson Marty Block was unavailable for comment at press time, but has maintained from the beginning the proper safeguards are in place.
Despite this, potential pollution of the lake and aquifer worry Restell, a three-year resident and businessman.
“There’s no question this stuff will end up in the lake,” the grandfather of three said. “One chance in a billion would be too many. This is about drinking water for 7,000 people.”
Restell has emailed minister Terry Lake and Premier Christy Clark asking them to disallow the permit.
He’s also asking if Cowichan candidates running in B.C.’s May 14 election will risk legal action from SIA to yank the permit, if granted.
“The NDP’s been quiet on this issue. It’s the MLA’s job to protect us, is it not?”
NDP MLA Bill Routley explained his party’s swimming upstream concerning environmental protection.
“This (Liberal) government has gutted environmental regulations, and there’s no teeth to stop this (permit).”
Routley aimed to write Lake about conflicting science on Shawnigan’s aquifer safety as reported by SIA’s consultants, and those hired by the Shawnigan Residents’ Association.
However, he declined to promise his party, if elected, would pull SIA’s permit if it’s granted after the appeal process.
Ironically, Cowichan’s Liberal hopeful, Steve Housser, was more strident in his opposition of the proposal. He opposes the draft permit, and he’s asked Clark to postpone issuance of SIA’s permit pending additional studies.
“It is incomprehensible to me a bureaucrat in the environment ministry could authorize such a potentially poisonous travesty,” Housser’s email says.
Meanwhile, Shawnigan Lake Director Bruce Fraser’s email notes local folks have been trying to work cooperatively with the ministry but have lost patience “with what seems to be a flagrant disregard of the interests of Shawnigan water users.”
“It cannot be lost on our public that the draft will be promulgated at the beginning of National Water Week and that the brief comment period for the public coincides with the two weeks of spring break,” writes Fraser.
“The Shawnigan public will be asked to comment on the permit conditions only, thus clearly telegraphing that the ministry has already decided to issue a permit and is just fiddling with the details.”
View the draft permit here.