Signmakers target Fraser in wake of leaked talks

One of several signs that sprang up around Shawnigan village last week critical of the CVRD’s handling of the SIA situation. - courtesy Mary Ann Watson
One of several signs that sprang up around Shawnigan village last week critical of the CVRD’s handling of the SIA situation.
— image credit: courtesy Mary Ann Watson

Shawnigan Lake Director Bruce Fraser is being tarred by some residents claiming he, regional chairman Rob Hutchins, Mill Bay Director Mike Walker, and staff had secret talks with the firm SIA about building a soil-treatment site in the south-end.

But Fraser said that informal May 29 meeting in Catrina’s Grill happened long before SIA got a provincial permit to treat five millions tonnes of fuel-laced dirt in its Stebbings Road pit.

The idea was to discuss SIA establishing an engineered site for contaminated soils in the shadow of growing numbers of illegal dirt dumps dotting Cowichan. The CVRD had floated the idea of working with the provincial government to establish such a soil site somewhere in Cowichan,

Backlash against Fraser and the others surfaced after a Feb. 22 Times Colonist story containing comments secretly recorded by an SIA official during the coffee klatch. Its public focus was a series of signs that appeared last week. One, hung in Shawnigan states: “The people deserve honesty and integrity: Resign Fraser.”

But Fraser said he’s not stepping down — noting he’s almost 75 and not running in this fall’s election. Instead, he asked folks to “consider the source” of the TC’s story as Environmental Appeal Board hearings started Monday about SIA’s permit.

Fraser believed SIA shared its recording of that coffee chat with the Colonist to show EAB brass the CVRD gave initial support to SIA’s soil-treatment plan.

He told the News Leader Pictorial he believed comments made by himself and Hutchins were taken out of context, fueling public bile. To him, it was unethical, but not illegal, for SIA’s Mike Kelly to record the informal huddle.

“SIA was unethical in taping a meeting without telling anyone.”

The Colonist reports Kelly recorded the conversation on his cell phone, “something he does as a matter of course while discussing development plans with municipal authorities.”

It is legal in Canada to record conversations if one party knows the recording is happening, notes the TC.

Fraser was concerned some TC readers may think the CVRD was trying to coach SIA about letting public fear subside, concerning 11 toxic sites in the south-end, before applying for a provincial permit.

In the Colonist’s story, Hutchins suggests SIA shelve any permit plan for a year “while we get a handle on the situation — we build the relationship with the (environment) ministry, we get the community to settle down, we do the basic groundwork evaluation.”

Evaluation later saw the CVRD compare SIA’s science with that of the SRA’s hydrogeologist, then reject SIA’s proposal.

“When the facts became known at the public meeting, people were convinced the proposal had lots of holes in it,” Fraser said, calling SIA’s science “a crock.”

Meanwhile, no one has claimed credit for the protest signs. Some have been yanked, leaving resident Mary Ann Watson fuming freedom of speech was spanked.

The CVRD and the Shawnigan Residents Association are objecting to the permit issued Aug. 21 despite considerable resident outcry. Many locals fear the lake and water supplies will be polluted by runoff from SIA’s Stebbings Road soil-treatment pit.

Victoria has allowed SIA to haul 40,000 tonnes of dirty dirt to its quarry, with a stay on importing the rest, pending conclusion of the appeal-board hearings.

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