Sonia Furstenau, MLA for the Cowichan Valley,is suggesting those opposed to contaminated soil being left at a landfill near Shawnigan Lake should write letters to Health Minister Adrian Dix. (citizen file)

Many residents skeptical of plan to leave contaminated soil on site

Sonia Furstenau encourages people to write environment ministry with concerns

Sonia Furstenau is encouraging residents in the Shawnigan Lake area to write letters to the government expressing their concerns around their drinking water.

The request by Furstenau, MLA for the Cowichan Valley, comes on the heels of a well-attended community town hall meeting that was held on Aug. 8 to discuss the final closure plan of the contaminated soil project near Shawnigan Lake.

RELATED STORY: MEETING IN SHAWNIGAN LAKE TO DISCUSS CONTAMINATED SOIL

Furstenau said the recently released B.C.’s auditor general report clearly states the provincial government isn’t doing enough to ensure the safety of B.C.’s drinking water, so it’s hoped that sending letters to Health Minister Adrian Dix expressing concerns about the drinking water in the Shawnigan Lake area could produce results as the final closure plans for the soil landfill play out.

“It’s the job of the health minister to protect drinking water, so that’s where these letters should be sent,” Furstenau said.

“I’m also setting up a meeting with Adrian Dix and (Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister) George Heyman to discuss the issue.”

Approximately 90 people attended the meeting, which saw many technical questions answered, and concerns raised, about the final closure plan for the soil site, which doesn’t call for the removal of about 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil from its location on Stebbings Road.

RELATED STORY: GOVERNMENT OKs CONTAMINATED SOIL AT SHAWNIGAN TO REMAIN

Many residents are skeptical of statements by the provincial government that leaving the soil at the site as part of the final closure plan, which will be conducted by the site’s owners, is safe.

The main fear is that any spill of contaminants from the soil at the landfill will leach into the local drinking water.

Furstenau said the Shawnigan Research Group, a collection of local experts that have been monitoring the soil operation for years, pointed out at the meeting that concerns around sodium, chloride and other chemicals in the contaminated soil will leach out from the site and into the local water systems persist.

She said the SRG is of the opinion that the liners containing the soil are degrading, a contention that the government dismisses.

RELATED STORY: SOIL COMPANIES TO CLOSE SHAWNIGAN CONTAMINATED SOIL QUARRY PERMANENTLY

“We’re also concerned by the fact that, while the company responsible for final closure of the site have until Oct. 31 to meet some of the conditions, there hasn’t been any activity at the site in some time,” Furstenau said.

“The time line for these conditions to be met, including the order to remove soil from one lot at the site where the company didn’t have permission to stockpile it, is now such that they will be difficult to complete. Nobody wants the work done during the rainy season.”

Other conditions the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has placed on the final closure plan includes enhanced environmental monitoring of the site, and complete independent oversight of the work at all times that is to be conducted by ministry staff or professionals that the ministry chooses.

Two shallow groundwater-monitoring wells must also be constructed to further assess the area.

Lorenzo Oss-Cech, with the Victoria-based law firm Hutchinsons Oss-Cech Marlatt that represents Cobble Hill Holdings , the company responsible for carrying out the final closure plan, said the company presently has a matter before the courts relating to this issue, so it has no comment at this time.

RELATED STORY: SHAWNIGAN RESIDENTS RALLYING TO DEMAND CONTAMINATED SOIL REMOVAL

A statement from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy states that the foremost concern of the government is to ensure protection of human health and the environment.

It said that although the landfill site is no longer operating, Cobble Hill Holdings is responsible for maintaining and dealing with the site under the Spill Prevention Order, which includes a final closure plan for the landfill.

“After carefully considering the technical review completed by independent, qualified professionals and government staff using the best available science, the final closure plan has been approved with additional conditions intended to ensure protection of the environment and watershed,” the statement said.

“The ministry will continue to monitor the work being done closely to ensure the plan is implemented as written. Recent inspections show the company is fully in compliance with the order.”



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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