Variance allows SIA to proceed with limited soil dumping

A stay against a permit granting a soil dumping and treatment operation south of Shawnigan Lake has been partially un-stayed. - Peter W. Rusland/file
A stay against a permit granting a soil dumping and treatment operation south of Shawnigan Lake has been partially un-stayed.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland/file

SIA will be allowed to treat nearly 40,000 tonnes of contaminated soil near Shawnigan Lake after all.

In a decision released Tuesday, the B.C. Environmental Appeals Board has granted a variance to an earlier order that halted soil dumping and treatment at SIA’s Stebbings Road site until the conclusion of an appeal.

Instead, it will be allowed to proceed with four contracts that were agreed to prior to the stay

“The panel has the benefit of the evidence of qualified professionals that any unanticipated contamination will be negligible and may be remediated by soil removal,” Environmental Appeal Board Chairman Alan Andison states in the ruling. “The panel is satisfied that the potential for irreparable harm has been greatly reduced with respect to the subject contracts, due to the nature of the contaminants, and the safeguards provided by the facility design.

“As such, even if the subject contaminants escape, the potential impacts to surface or ground water do not outweigh the serious financial consequences to (SIA’s) interests.”

The relative safety of the soil in question, greater certainty of the bedrock and installation of a water treatment system were  cited as factors.

“Simply put, at the time of the original stay decision, the totality of the evidence before the board resulted in the balancing of risks weighing in favour of a stay,” Andison writes.

“In contrast, the totality of the evidence now supports a finding of a reduced risk to the environment and human health if the subject soils are deposited in accordance with the permit over the coming months.”

The Shawnigan Residents Association is “deeply disappointed” with this decision.

“As an organization and as a community we are stunned that the EAB would allow the proponents to dump contaminated soils on their property before this matter is heard next month,” SRA vice-president Calvin Cook said in a media release.

“Although we have no choice but to respect the board’s decision we are in complete opposition and will continue to fight the contaminated soil permit.”

The variance is limited to the contracts in question. The stay otherwise remains in effect until the appeal is concluded.

The SRA and the CVRD are asking the EAB to reverse a decision allowing SIA to dump and treat five million tonnes of contaminated soil because of the threat they believe it poses to the Shawnigan Lake watershed.

The SRA recently ramped up its lobbying effort with a billboard targeting Victoria residents.

“This is not merely a Shawnigan issue, the permit if not overturned is a landmark decision which will place other communities and their drinking water supplies at risk,” Cook said. “If it can happen in Shawnigan Lake it can happen in your backyard too.”

Shawnigan Lake School added its voice to the campaign late last month, donating $30,000 to SRA’s legal fund, which has now topped $115,000 toward a $200,000 goal.

“We are happy for it to be known that the school wholeheartedly supports the SRA in their efforts to stop this permit and we will continue to lend support moving forward,” said Shawnigan Lake School Headmaster David Robertson.

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