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Shawnigan's dirty-dirt site leaves NDP eco-critic demanding water-act revamp
Water is life and B.C.'s water act should be revamped to reflect that need, NDP's environment critic signalled after seeing where imported contaminated soil could pollute Shawnigan Lake's water supplies.
"We need to be looking at the role of community leaders in protecting their own water," MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert said recently after touring near a massive quarry where South Island Aggregates Ltd. has a provincial permit to dump and treat five million tonnes of fuel-fouled earth.
To Chandra Herbert, that permit — recently issued by Victoria, against stiff local protest — is a textbook case of how the water act isn't protecting water sources.
"The Liberals have basically deleted democratic community control of water supplies, and (ignored) local leaders who say water is vital to life.
"We need a higher degree of protection for water than for some other goods. We can't eat money or gold, but water allows us to have salmon.
"It's the key to life, aside from air of course."
His observations followed visiting near the quarry, off Stebbings Road.
"We also looked at the creek, and talked to residents who are extremely concerned.
"I could see worry on their faces about what to do with their water if it should become contaminated — pretty shocking stuff."
Shocking enough that the Shawnigan Residents Association and the Cowichan Valley Regional District are working with respective lawyers to appeal the permit, and demand a soil-import stay, during the appeal through B.C.'s Environmental Appeal Board.
"It shows the need for a modernized water act," he said, lamenting the Liberals' closure of legislative debate until the new year.
Bruce Fraser, Shawingan Lake's director, said CVRD lawyers are talking with SRA's lawyers to ensure maximum legal strength for the two-prong permit attack.
While that permit was being mulled by environment ministry bureaucrat Hubert Bunce, CVRD lawyers began building their Supreme Court challenge concerning SIA's improper zoning to treat contaminated soil.
SIA's pit is zoned F-1 (forestry). Under CVRD bylaws, it needs a special zone to treat dirty dirt.
"We can invoke a (zoning) bylaw," Fraser said of the legal complexities, "but unless the province isn't prepared to trump us, it may not work.
"It's not a clear-cut case of CVRD zoning prevails."
Chandra Herbert was dismayed Shawnigan folks are "left to fight the government from their own pockets."
He declined to predict if the appeal board will pull SIA's permit.
"I'm not a betting man.
"Speaking to residents, they feel pretty confident common sense will prevail, but we've seen this (Grit) government's track record, and they like steamrolling over community concerns," he said.