B.C. Supreme Court sends contaminated soil decision back to appeal board

The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the opponents of the controversial soil landfill at Shawnigan Lake.

The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the opponents of the controversial soil landfill at Shawnigan Lake.

Justice Robert Sewell set aside a decision by B.C.’s environmental appeal board on Tuesday and reinstated a stay of the permit that allowed Cobble Hill Holdings and South Island Aggregates to receive and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year at the site.

Sewell decided to refer the case back to the appeal board for reconsideration, and the quarry is no longer allowed to import soil to the site until further decisions are made by the board.

Shawnigan Residents Association president Calvin Cook said the ruling is a “big win” for them.

“The SRA members feel relieved and vindicated,” he said.

“But it’s a partial victory at this stage. We wanted the permit overturned and all the soil that has been brought to the site removed and we’re still hoping that this will happen.”

The landfill’s representatives couldn’t be reached for comment by press time. Check for follow-up in Friday’s Citizen.

Sewell’s ruling comes after a judicial review of the operation initiated by the SRA that was heard over 11 days by the BC Supreme Court last February as part of the SRA’s efforts to bring the facility to a halt.

The project was previously given a permit by the province’s Ministry of Environment.

But documents that came to light in July, 2015, revealed a complex proposed deal between the companies working to establish the soil facility, which the SRA alleges throws doubt on the information that was used by the ministry in its decision to grant a permit for the project.

In his 49-page decision, Sewell said he’s satisfied that the environmental review board was “misled” with the information that was provided by the proponents when it was considering issuing a permit.

“If the question before me had been whether to set aside the permit, I would have had no difficulty in setting it aside and remitting it to the ministry for reconsideration because the [permit information] was prepared by persons who were biased in favour of approving the project,” Sewell said.

Sonia Furstenau, the director for Shawnigan Lake in the Cowichan Valley Regional District and long-time opponent of the project, also said she’s happy with the decision.

“We said from the beginning that we would win this fight,” she said.

“All the evidence continues to demonstrate that this landfill should never have been allowed to operate in our watershed in the first place.”