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No charges coming in Duncan garbage blaze
No charges or fines are being laid against a Cowichan Tribes member who illegally burned a mountain of garbage near Duncan in June, a federal agent says.
Results of the federal probe into that blaze ended July 29, and are outlined in an email reply to News Leader Pictorial questions sent to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s Hazel Desharnais.
AANDC brass would not name the person who torched the machine-piled junk sitting off Indian Road.
“The waste site in question is held through a traditional holding arrangement with the Cowichan First Nation, which is not registered with AANDC in any official capacity,” she notes.
“Regional (Cowichan) officials had a discussion with the operator in July 2013, and delivered a cease-and-desist order against further burning,” Desharnais’ email says.
“The operator has agreed not to burn any additional waste.”
The operator had earlier been handed a cease-and-desist order by AANDC in February 2013 concerning garbage storage on the site.
Regional officials also had a discussion with the operator in July, and delivered a cease-and-desist order against further burning.
The federal department’s investigation followed a fire that choked parts of Duncan with smoke for four days. The blaze of construction debris, trash, rail ties and other buried stuff was ordered snuffed June 28 by Tribes’ Chief Harvey Alphonse.
AANDC has asked the operator to haul all site wastes to a licensed disposal facility, and remediate the Tribes’ site to residential or commercial standards as soon as possible, the feds say.
AANDC is working with Tribes to implement measures ensuring no more fires happen at the site, she notes, but the department doesn’t explain those measures.
“As with any fire,” answers Desharnais, “an individual who witnesses a fire can help protect the public by calling 9-1-1, or the local emergency service to request emergency support.”
Cowichan Tribes contracts with North Cowichan to provide fire protection services in that area.
But North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure has stated his fire hall had no jurisdiction on Tribes land. Neither did Duncan’s volunteer hall, city Mayor Phil Kent said.
Asked if any haulers to Tribes’ site are being investigated, Desharnais’ says, “Investigation of the dumping is ongoing, therefore further comment about what action the department may take would be inappropriate at this time.”
Meanwhile, her department’s seeking answers if a permit was issued, to whom and when, for extracting gravel from a massive pit — beside the burn site — overlooking the fish-bearing Cowichan River.
“Under the Indian Act,” says Desharnais, “a permit is required for extracting gravel on reserve lands.
“AANDC’s permitting process is rigorous, involving submission of a Band Council Resolution consenting to the permit and detailed planning documents, including environmental impact assessments.
“To ensure waterways are protected, the planning documents are forwarded to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for review,” she says.