Association says no conflict of interest for engineers in Shawnigan soil dump controversy

Association says no conflict of interest for engineers in Shawnigan soil dump controversy

Sonia Furstenau said conclusions show faults in regulatory process

There was no conflict of interest related to the now-closed contaminated soil dump near Shawnigan Lake and the environmental engineering firm that originally signed off on it, according to B.C.’s regulatory body for engineers.

After a lengthy investigation, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC concluded that there were no reasonable grounds to believe that any of the five professionals employed by Active Earth Engineering demonstrated unprofessional conduct or contravened the association’s Code of Ethics in providing professional technical services to the operator of the facility.

The investigation began in July, 2015, following multiple complaints from the public alleging that the AEE professionals were in a conflict of interest in providing professional technical services to the owners, South Island Aggregates and Cobble Hill Holdings, while also taking an ownership interest in the project.

The investigation also determined that AEE’s potential ownership interest was disclosed to the Ministry of Environment early on in the approval process.

Investigators from the association concluded that the ministry advised AEE that it was not concerned that it would be improper, from the ministry’s perspective, for them to serve as “qualified professionals” for the permitting process while at the same time having an ownership interest in the project.

The investigation also determined that, although a joint venture between AEE and SIA/CHH was discussed over a period of time, no agreement was ever reached.

Sonia Furstenau, the Green MLA for the Cowichan Valley, said the APEGBC’s investigation results just reinforces the need to reform the professional-reliance model in which industry is depended on to monitor itself and protect the environment, rather than the government.

“As the regulator for engineering and geoscience in B.C., APEGBC takes its duty to uphold the ethical standards of the professions seriously,” said chief regulatory officer Tony Chong. “Protecting public safety is our number one priority. In this case, we are confident our robust investigation process worked in the public interest.”

The landfill’s permit to operate was pulled by the Ministry of Environment earlier this year after what the ministry claimed was “repeated failure by the company to meet deadlines and comply with permit requirements.”

The permit had allowed the site to receive and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year.

Furstenau, who was one the leaders against the soil dump when she was the director for Shawnigan Lake at the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said the association’s conclusions show that the professional-reliance model “fails at every step”.

She said she’s also “very disturbed” by the fact that when the Liberals were in power, someone in the Ministry of Environment contacted the association and told them the government knew Active Earth Engineering had a financial interest in the soil dump.

“The ministry at the time seemed to have forgotten the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens and the environment,” she said.

“It’s not the job of the industry and engineers to do that. The ministry called me after the association released its report and said they were eager to work with me on the reform process. I just hope that we will see a significant shift in the ministry to address this very worrisome problem.”