SIA permit a terrible idea

Finally South Island Aggregates (SIA) has received the go-ahead to fill their quarry on Stebbings Road with giant containers constructed out of plastic liners filled with contaminated soil. To be clear, this is not about “dirt from dredging the ocean” or just “some soil from an old gas station”; the permit gives SIA the permission to accept soil containing high concentrations of chemicals/metals like mercury, pesticides (including DDT), and PCBs. In addition, this is not just local soil. Soil has already been brought to the Island from places as far away as Prince Rupert.

The Ministry of Environment knows that Shawnigan Lake is a valuable source of drinking water that needs to be protected. Unfortunately, rather than finding a low risk site, the Ministry is depending on engineered containment in the form of liners, clay and a sophisticated water treatment plant to keep the watershed safe. There are various reasons this is a terrible idea:

The location couldn’t be worse. The dump is on a hill, next to a stream, over an aquifer.

Water leaving the site will enter the creek and eventually Shawnigan Lake or possibly even the aquifer beneath the site. (On the topic of aquifers, the dump is actually closer to Victoria’s watershed than it is to Shawnigan Lake.)

SIA is going to continue blasting in the quarry, even after they start installing the plastic liners and accepting fill.

The monitoring of the site is done by SIA themselves.

SIA has already failed, at least once, to properly treat the water leaving the site This is not about finding a place to put the waste in the absence of a good alternative. There are other places this waste could go on the south Island. The CVRD has even offered to help find additional sites. The fundamental issue is that the current site offers no real natural containment: it is on the side of a hill, next to a stream, over an aquifer. If the engineered containment solution fails, pollution will enter the watershed. The problem is, liners can leak and water treatment plants need to be maintained. In fact, we really don’t need to look any farther than the Mt. Polley disaster to see what can happen when we rely solely on engineering to protect our natural environment.

Alex Acton Shawnigan Lake