Year in Review: Fight against contaminated soil continued

The saga of the Shawnigan Lake community protesting the importation of contaminated soil by South Island Aggregates.

The saga of the Shawnigan Lake community protesting the importation of contaminated soil by South Island Aggregates onto a property they own within the watershed continued in 2015.

In March, the Environmental Appeal Board dismissed appeals by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the Shawnigan Residents Association and several private citizens that sought to prevent SIA and Cobble Hill Holdings from importing millions of tonnes of contaminated soil to their Stebbings Road site, under a permit issued by the provincial Ministry of Environment.

But that wasn’t the end of the battle.

Residents vowed to continue the fight, and in May the Shawnigan Residents Association and the CVRD announced that they would be petitioning the B.C. Supreme Court.

The SRA has filed an application for judicial review, and is seeking to have the court set aside the decision of the Environmental Appeal Board. The CVRD petition to the court asks that CVRD Zoning Bylaw No. 985 be enforced in relation to the SIA property, which would shut down any dumping of contaminated soil on the site. Contaminated soil treatment and landfill facilities are not a permitted use of the property within the F1-Forestry zone under the bylaw.

The results of both of those appeals are still pending.

The drama heightened with an SRA court filing in July after documents were dropped off at their offices in a cloak and dagger manner.

These documents explained a complex deal between the companies working to establish the facility, which SRA alleges throws doubt on engineering firm Active Earth’s impartiality in the matter.

The Ministry of Environment relied on information from Active Earth in making the decision on the permit.

South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill holdings officials say the documents, stolen from their offices, describe only an abandoned agreement.

A bombshell announcement hit in August when Malahat First Nation Chief Michael Harry resigned over allegations he had taken a consulting fee from South Island Aggregates.

Since then, trucks have been rolling to the site, and several community protesters have been arrested for blocking their access. A warning was issued for part of the lake in November, saying the water may have been contaminated by runoff from the Stebbings Road site, but it was subsequently rescinded.

That didn’t stop residents from renewing the call for the operation to be shut down.

Tensions remain high between Shawnigan residents and the company, as everyone awaits the outcome of court proceedings.