‘No evidence of a breach’, says minister

“As we get results back, we will determine whether anything happened at all": Mary Polak

During Monday afternoon’s debate at the legislature, provincial NDP leader John Horgan urged Environment Minister Mary Polak to stop operations at South Island Aggregates after a suspected breach at the facility prompted a “no-use water” advisory Friday by Island Health.

“After years of being approached by residents, whether they be elected representative, regular citizens or former Liberal candidates, the response has always been: ‘Do not worry. We’re here to protect you.’ Until it rains,” Hansard documents show Horgan as saying. “As you well know, we live in a rainforest. The first rain in the 50-year permit led to a no-use advisory for the people in the region. Can the minister now do the right thing, stop the movement of contaminated soils into the Shawnigan watershed and do it today?”

Horgan noted that both the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the Shawnigan Ratepayers Association are in court fighting against the soil company currently permitted to receive over 100,000 tonnes annually over 50 years of contaminated dirt just above the drinking water supply for 12,000 Shawingan-area residents.

“The right thing for the government to do, while these issues are before the courts, is to suspend the 20 to 30 trucks a day that are bringing contaminants to an empty minesite and affecting the lives of thousands of citizens,” Horgan said. “Surely to goodness it’s time for the minister to put people first, stop the trucks and let these people get on with regular lives.”

Polak said “there is absolutely no evidence of a breach” and if it did occur, it may not even be as bad as people assume.

“As we get results back, we will determine whether anything happened at all,” she said.

Polak also told Horgan that politicians should stay out of the way and let the scientists do their work.

“The members of the staff of the Ministry of Health and the members of the staff of the Ministry of Environment dedicate their entire careers to working to ensure that public health is kept safe, that the environment is kept safe,” she said. “These people have the expertise, but they also feel the heavy obligation to ensure that those careers matter, to make sure that they are doing their part in upholding their obligations for British Columbians across this province. They do that each and every day. They do that independent of political interference. That is the way it should be.”