Malahat chief resigns over soil deal allegations

Malahat band administrator Lawrence Lewis confirmed Wednesday Harry had indeed left his post

Allegations he was receiving a consulting fee from the owners of South Cowichan’s controversial contaminated soil treatment facility have prompted Michael Harry to resign as chief of the Malahat First Nation.

Malahat band administrator Lawrence Lewis confirmed Wednesday Harry had indeed left his post, calling it a personal matter not related to the First Nation.

“They are allegations at this point, and it’s unfortunate, but I think Michael’s done what I’ve always known him to do and that’s to do what’s in the best interest of the Nation,” Lewis said. “The Nation had no knowledge of this personal relationship that’s alleged to have existed between Michael Harry and South Island Aggregates. I didn’t know, the Nation didn’t know, and so it appears to be a personal issue or matter between Michael and these folks.”

Shawnigan Residents’ Association president Calvin Cook believes Harry’s resignation came as a result of his group’s most recent court filing, another Notice of Application in B.C. Supreme Court.

The information, not proven in court, suggests Harry was paid “a consulting fee per tonne of soil.”

“In those listings it does show a consulting fee paid on several occasions to Chief Michael Harry,” Cook said of the documents submitted on Aug. 6.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Cook said of Harry’s resignation. “They’ve [the Malahat Nation] been doing so many good things in the community. We’ll just have to wait and see where this leads. I think that’s probably the appropriate thing to do is to step aside until a complete investigation has been done.”

It’s been two years since the province authorized South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings to collect and treat five million tonnes of dirty dirt over the next 50 years.

The Stebbings Road facility sits just above the Shawnigan community’s water supply. Despite vocal opposition from the community, spearheaded by the Shawnigan Residents’ Association, the Environmental Appeal Board upheld the decision to grant the permit this March.

The Residents’ Association has been busy ever since, trying to protect what they see as a major threat to the drinking water of more than 12,000 people.

Multiple court filings include accusations that South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings made a pact with Active Earth, the engineers hired to do environmental risk assessment on the project, to share profits over the 50-year lifespan of the operation through two numbered companies. This is a problem, the Residents’ Association said, because the province relied on the engineering firm’s reports to be unbiased when they were making the permit decisions.

South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings owner Mike Kelly said he couldn’t speak for Harry or the Malahat First Nation but said his companies “appreciate the importance of the checks and balances afforded us by the legal system, and are confident that the arguments of both sides will be weighed carefully and an objective ruling will assuage all doubt as to the safety and merit of this project.”

Kelly said in July that the information the Residents’ Association is using in court against his companies had been stolen and furthermore, “it is simply a copy of a two-and-a-half-year-old abandoned agreement between the directors of CHH and our engineers that was never followed through with, even to this day.”

The Residents’ Association does not believe the deal was abandoned and has vowed to keep fighting on behalf of the community.

Meanwhile, Lewis said it’s business as usual for the Malahat band, and while the Nation is governed by “a group folks, not a single individual,” he said the outgoing chief was replaced by his uncle, acting chief, Tom Harry a band councillor.

“We will continue our governance and the day-to-day delivery of services — all the stuff that we do continues uninterrupted,” he said. “The nation is very active in terms of its nation building and its business activities and we need to be able to focus on that and not be distracted by other folks’ agendas.”

Lewis wouldn’t rule out a return of the elected chief.

“There’s always a chance,” he said. “It’s to be determined though.”