Protest slows dirt truck traffic

For a road where it isn’t uncommon for dump trucks to pass at the rate of six per minute, southern Shawnigan Lake Road was surprisingly quiet on Monday morning, despite the fact that South Island Aggregates was expected to begin dumping tonnes of contaminated dirt in the area.

Protester Shelagh Bell-Irving chalked it up as a win for the efforts of local residents, who turned out to protest the dumping.

"If anything, we’ve had a little victory because we’ve slowed the trucks down," she said. "They don’t want us to back them up down the Malahat."

Despite occasionally torrential rain, residents gathered at the intersection of Shawnigan Lake and Stebbings roads to impede trucks trying to reach the SIA site.

"I’m pleased with the number that came out," Bell-Irving said. "I’m just happy some people showed up. We’ll be here as long as it takes. I don’t know if we’ll be here every day, but pretty darn close. It’s a matter of getting people to wake up."

Some 40,000 tonnes of dirty dirt are expected at the site prior to a hearing on the soil treatment in March – the beginnings of what could be five million tonnes over the next 50 years. Bell-Irving said it would take 8,000 trucks to bring in the first 40,000 tonnes.

Potentially laced with heavy toxic contents such as fuel, lead and arsenic, the soil comes from contaminated sites in Esquimalt and Prince Rupert.

Despite assurances to the contrary from SIA, residents are concerned the contaminants will end up in their drinking water.

"When Shawnigan Lake gets poisoned, it will take down the whole underground aquifer," Bell-Irving said.

Briefly taking shelter from the downpour, Bell-Irving gestured to the rain. "They’re not meant to be dumping in bad weather, according to their permit," she said. "That’s what, only July?" Bell-Irving noted that the Shawnigan aquifer, which serves about 7,000 residents, is just four kilometres from Sooke, and fellow protester Cliff Evans pointed out that the hill where SIA is located backs onto the Saanich Inlet watershed, creating the potential for contamination well beyond the Shawnigan area.

"It’s just a travesty that this contaminated soil is coming into our watershed," Evans said.

Bell-Irving vowed that she would continue her protest until SIA stops trucking in the dirty dirt.

"I’m going to be back here," she said. "This is just the first of many. I’m not going to let them do this."