Opponents of the South Island Aggregates contaminated soil dump near Shawnigan Lake took their campaign up a notch Wednesday, Jan. 6, taking reporters and politicians from far and wide on helicopter flyovers above the lake and the South Island Aggregates site while simultaneously holding some of their largest protests outside the dump to date.
“We wanted to get the story out to a much wider audience,” Shawnigan Lake Area Director Sonia Furstenau said. “We think this is a story that has national significance. How is it that in 2016, a community has to fight for its drinking water?”
Views from the helicopter included where the landfill abuts Shawnigan Creek, which flows into the lake from which thousands of residents get their drinking water. Opponents say the ruddy-coloured water flowing into the creek from the site could contain dozens of contaminants.
Media members who took advantage of the flyover opportunity included a crew from CTV news magazine series W5, and reporters from the Globe and Mail. Furstenau was pleased to see the national media taking an interest in the story that has already received extensive coverage on local and provincial levels.
“I think our story is starting to get better coverage,” she said. “Getting journalists in our side, who are digging into the story, is demonstrating that we are very serious.”
Dozens of volunteers put in time to make Wednesday’s event happen, and “hundreds” spent time protesting at the Stebbings Road site, Furstenau said.
Also among those present for the flyover and the protest was Raffi Cavoukian, best known as a longtime children’s entertainer but also a social and environmental activist who has made several trips to the lake at the invitation of the Shawnigan Residents Association.
“I had an aerial view of a little piece of heaven on earth,” he said upon returning from his helicopter trip. “Why in heaven’s name would anyone endanger this is beyond me.”
Raffi serenaded reporters with bits of songs, reworded for the day: “This lake is made for you and me,” and “Beautiful Shawnigan Lake, we’re gonna let it shine.”
“All my adult life, I’ve been all about clean air and clean water,” he said.
His main concern, he added, is the children of the area, who will have to suffer the consequences of the decision to dump the contaminated soil for decades.
“If we can make it about them, we make it about all of us,” he said.
Politicians who attended the event included provincial NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, although no representatives of the governing Liberal party were present. Several Victoria city councillors took flights, as did Esquimalt councillor Olga Liberchuk.
Liberchuk was shocked to see that her township’s drinking water source — Sooke Lake — is just as close to the SIA site as Shawnigan Lake is.
“I realized it’s closer to home than I thought,” she said. “It’s kind of scary. This has the potential to impact Esquimalt in the future. I will definitely be interested to see how things unfold.”
Liberchuk expressed her hope that the Capital Regional District backs the SRA and CVRD in its fight against the soil dump, and added her personal support for the SRA efforts.
“They’ve been at it for years, but they’re staying strong, and that’s what’s important,” she said. “I wish them all the best.”
Councillors from Port Moody also visited the area on Wednesday. Port Moody’s old coal terminal is a major source of the contaminated soil that is being dumped at the SIA site right now, and Furstenau said that community doesn’t want to be affiliated with the dump.
“They’re experiencing a tarnish on the reputation on their town because of this,” she said.
On Monday, a judicial review will begin in Victoria with the SRA arguing once again for an injunction against the soil dump, based on documents that allege Cobble Hill Holdings, which operates the dump, signed a secret agreement to share revenues with Active Earth Engineering, the company that was supposed to be conducting environmental assessments of the site. Cobble Hill Holdings denies any wrongdoing.
The residents’ fight will continue outside the courthouse, as well. Furstenau noted that the SRA has a strong enough social media presence that Pacific Coast Terminals — where contaminated soil from Port Moody is loaded onto barges to ship to Vancouver Island — had to shut down its Facebook page.
“Any community in this situation would be doing exactly what we’re doing,” she said. “We are going to put however much effort it’s going to take for however long it’s going to take for the insanity to stop.”