Unpaid taxes by Cobble Hill Holdings and an extended deadline for the final closure of the company’s contaminated soil dump near Shawnigan Lake are frustrating to Sonia Furstenau.
Furstenau, the MLA for the Cowichan Valley who was one of the leaders of the successful fight to shut down the controversial facility, said she’s disappointed that CHH was given a 10-month extension to close the site, which was supposed to be closed on Oct. 31, and the fact that the property faces a pending forfeiture to the government if it doesn’t pay $38,000 in unpaid taxes by the end of November.
CHH has been warned by the Ministry of Finance that the property could be forfeited to the government if the company doesn’t pay the tax bill by Dec. 1
That has raised fears that taxpayers’ could be ultimately responsible for covering the costs of cleaning up the site.
An email from CHH said the company has no comment on the issue at this time as it is before the courts.
Furstenau said the Ministry of Environment should have made the decision to have all the contaminated soil removed when the site was closed in 2017.
“This is an unacceptable situation,” Furstenau said.
“The Shawnigan Residents Association and the community identified these possible outcomes as early as 2012. Patterns have developed over the history of this entire affair, including missed deadlines, non-compliance to permits and not meeting conditions set out by successive ministers.”
It’s been two years since the controversial landfill shut down operations when its operating permit was pulled from its owners, CHH and South Island Aggregates, by the province after years of lawsuits and demonstrations.
Earlier this month, Environment Minister George Heyman agreed to CHH’s request to push back the Oct. 31 deadline to have the site prepared for final closure until Aug. 31, 2020.
The extension is intended give the company time to bring in extra fill soil, which is not contaminated, to cap the site, a move opposed by residents who fear the contaminated soil underneath will leach into their water supply and want it all removed as soon as possible.
Cobble Hill Holdings said in its application for the deadline extension that it could not do the necessary work during the winter months.
As for the unpaid taxes and what would happen if the site was forfeited to the province, a statement from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change said the owners would still legally be required to comply with the Spill Prevention Order that was issued for the site, regardless of whether they own the property, “now or in the future”.
The statement said that if the owners forfeit the property, the ministry would still require them to close the site as per the closure plan.
“The province does not become a person responsible for remediation of a site through involuntarily acquisition,” the statement said.
“Failure to comply with any part of the order would be subject to the ministry’s compliance and enforcement policy and procedure, including administrative penalties. Ministry staff will conduct regular onsite and desktop inspections in the coming months to monitor the completion of required activities and submission of required documentation.”
Furstenau said she’ll continue to call Heyman and the government to account on all issues related to the soil dump, including raising questions in this week’s question period in the legislature.
“As I have said before, the contaminated soil should be removed before any other work is done there,” she said.