Shawnigan brings soil dump battle to Victoria

Dwight International School students Johannes Bodendorfer and Madeleine Corwin took their concerns about a soil dump in the Shawnigan Lake watershed to the front steps of the legislature Thursday.  - courtesy Shawnigan Water
Dwight International School students Johannes Bodendorfer and Madeleine Corwin took their concerns about a soil dump in the Shawnigan Lake watershed to the front steps of the legislature Thursday.
— image credit: courtesy Shawnigan Water

One year ago, 18-year-old Johannes Bodendorfer was a high school student living in his native Austria.

This morning he was in Victoria taking a passionate stand for his adopted new home as part of a crowd estimated at between 500 and 600 people.

Bodendorfer joined about 40 other Dwight International School students, dozens of Shawnigan Lake residents and the entire population of Shawnigan Lake School on the legislature lawn to send a clear message to the provincial government: don't put contaminated soil in a community watershed.

“I really want to emphasize the fact the community seems to be growing in strength and unity,” Dwight teacher Sonia Furstenau told the News Leader Pictorial from the scene. “The message was very clear and straight: putting (contaminated soil in a watershed) is a terrible idea.”

Spurred by a significant public outcry, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Shawnigan Residents Association are appealing an August Ministry of Environment decision to allow South Island Aggregates to import up to five million tonnes of contaminated soil for treatment and storage in its Stebbings Road quarry.

Today's event grew from an idea at Shawnigan Lake School into something that involved the entire community.

A series of speakers took turns making the community's point in a variety of ways. They included Cowichan Valley MLA Bill Routley, Cowichan Valley B.C. Liberal Constituency president Steve Housser, SRA president Calvin Cook, Shawnigan Lake Director Bruce Fraser and NDP leader Adrian Dix — who pointed to the room where cabinet was meeting so the crowd could deliver its message to the right spot.

But Furstenau was particularly pleased with the impact of the message delivered by the three student speakers: Bodendorfer, Dwight's Madeleine Corwin and Cecil Ash from SLS.

“They said “this is a decision being made by people who won't have to live with the consequences,'” she said.

Bodenborfer said he would not have pictured himself in that spot one year ago. But he's done his research on the issue. And after living in Shawnigan, growing to love the lake and observing the passion residents have for their community, he now can't picture himself standing idly by.

“I was blown away by the strong sense of community in Shawnigan,” he said. “In Europe we don't have that. I was just amazed.”

Furstenau believes the rally will bring this issue to the attention of more people outside of Cowichan and help them understand it could affect more than one community.

“I think that with the media coverage it will start to do that. It's not just Shawnigan; the aquifers could be connected.”

And the attention the rally will draw could force cabinet to listen.

“We all know that in the end they can make the final decision on this.”

The Environmental Appeal board hearing in Victoria has been ongoing all month. It is expected to wrap up April 4.

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