Dirty-dirt permit appeal hits hiatus until June

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Provincial appeal-board hearings, probing a permit to treat five-million tonnes of toxic soil near Shawnigan Lake, now reach into June, regional officials say.

“Environmental Appeal Board hearings were scheduled for four weeks,” said Rob Hutchins, chairman of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, whose lawyers are fighting SIA’s permit, along with lawyers for the Shawnigan Lake Residents Association.

“More time has been required. It is my understanding there are three days of hearings this week, but it will not be until June (due to scheduling snags) that the hearings will be reconvened and concluded.”

Meanwhile South Island Aggregates  boss Marty Block emailed the News Leader Pictorial Saturday, explaining his gravel-quarry firm is alive, despite reports to the contrary.

He said things are quiet at its Stebbings Road pit — where Victoria has let an initial 40,000 tonnes of dirty dirt to be hauled —due to slow markets, and press attention during the appeal.

“We are not going anywhere, just downsizing,” he writes.

“We are very quiet in the quarry, partly due to the picketing and the media coverage. Contractors don’t want to be on the air, and the market is soft right now, so we are sending some gear to auction; it is the prudent thing to do.

“It is with heavy hearts that we have lost some key staff that have been with us for eight years, mainly due to protesters and market conditions,” explains Block. “But to make myself very clear we are not closing.”

South-end residents and local leaders are following the emotional, data-rich appeal hearings that followed environment-ministry bureaucrat Hubert Bunce issuing SIA its 50-year treatment permit last summer. Bunce made his ruling after reading technical reports and submissions from some 300 folks fearing pit run-off will foul the lake and area drinking water.

CVRD’s lawyers have called soil-treatment and hydro-geography pros to the hearings “to show expert testimony is not supportive of the permit, the way it was developed, and the ability of the company to live up to permit conditions,” Shawnigan Director Bruce Fraser said.

The CVRD also awaits a B.C. Supreme Court ruling on if Victoria properly recognized Cowichan’s zoning bylaws in issuing SIA’s permit, noted Fraser.

Taxpayer costs for CVRD lawyers was unavailable by press time. However, the SRA announced Monday that its Legal Action Fund, had this month raised an additional $45,000 thanks to the efforts of Shawnigan Lake School and the community at large.

The SRA stated it had raised a total of $200,000, and estimated its expenses could exceed $250,000.

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