The owners of the controversial soil landfill at Shawnigan Lake are defending their environmental record at the site after the decision by the BC Supreme Court this week.
In a statement, the owners of Cobble Hill Holdings and South Island Aggregates said they have indicated for some time that if the community has new questions and concerns around their operating permit and want the matter sent back to the province’s environmental appeal board for reconsideration, they would not object.
The statement said the landfill has been in operation since early 2015 and has been complying with the requirements of the Ministry of Environment since then.
“The ministry required a new engineering study of the quarry by completely independent engineers last year,” the statement said.
“That study was provided to the ministry in December. Neither the ministry oversight over the last two years, nor the new engineering [study] raised any current concerns about environmental impact or risk.”
Justice Robert Sewell from the BC Supreme Court set aside a decision by B.C.’s Environmental Appeal Board on Tuesday and reinstated a stay of the permit that allowed the landfill to receive and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year at the site.
Sewell decided to refer the case back to the appeal board for reconsideration, and the quarry is no longer allowed to import soil to the site until further decisions are made by the board.
Sewell’s ruling comes after a judicial review of the operation initiated by the Shawnigan Residents Association that was heard by the BC Supreme Court last February as part of the SRA’s efforts to bring the facility to a halt.
The project was previously given a permit by the province’s Ministry of Environment.
But documents that came to light in July, 2015, revealed a complex proposed deal between the companies working to establish the soil facility, which the SRA alleges throws doubt on the information that was used by the ministry in its decision to grant a permit for the project.
In his decision, Sewell said he’s satisfied that the environmental review board was “misled” with the information that was provided by the proponents when it was considering issuing a permit.
The statement from the landfill’s owners makes no reference to Sewell’s assertions that the appeal board was misled by information provided from them and
environmental firm, Active Earth Engineers, that was hired to conduct an independent review of the project before the permit was issued.
Alistair MacGregor, MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford and a long-time opponent of the landfill, said the court was “absolutely right” to send the issue back to the EAB.
“The stay of permit is a good sign, but until the permit is revoked and Shawnigan Lake becomes fully protected in law, the battle against contamination of the watershed remains,” he said.
The decision by the BC Supreme Court comes on the heels of an announcement by the Cowichan Valley Regional District that it is taking its own, separate case around zoning against the landfill to the highest court in the country.
The CVRD filed an application with the Supreme Court of Canada on Dec. 29 to appeal its case and is asking that the court review the decision made by the BC Court of Appeal on Nov. 3 that allowed the landfill to continue operations.
That decision reversed a ruling made by the BC Supreme Court on March 21 that found that the landfill is not a permitted use of the property under the CVRD’s zoning bylaws.
The CVRD is arguing that the BC Court of Appeal erred in setting aside “key factual findings” of the case, and that the court incorrectly determined that provincial mining decisions take exclusive precedence over the regional district’s land-use bylaws.
The regional district is also arguing that the court erred in finding that the CVRD’s authority to regulate soil-deposit facilities restricts the district’s ability to regulate land use.
CVRD chairman Jon Lefebure offered his congratulations to the SRA and the people from Shawnigan Lake for their “hard work” in bringing their case before the courts and achieving success.
“It’s a very positive ruling for the SRA and the residents,” he said.