Province suspends contaminated soil permit

Calvin Cook, president of the Shawnigan Residents Association, said he feels “vindicated” with the government’s decision

Calvin Cook, president of the Shawnigan Residents Association, said he feels “vindicated” with the government’s decision on Jan. 27 to suspend the waste-discharge permit at the controversial contaminated landfill at Shawnigan Lake.

Environment Minister Mary Polak is also threatening to revoke the permit that allows Cobble Hill Holdings and South Island Aggregates to import up to 100,000 tons of contaminated soil to the site per year.

Polak said she is issuing the suspension of the waste-discharge permit because the companies have failed to address outstanding and past non-compliance issues, and if the companies don’t provide documents required by the ministry regarding those issues within the next 15 business days, the permit will be cancelled.

“We’re certainly encouraged by this announcement, even though the permit is already currently under suspension,” Cook said.

“The companies will now have to decide if any further investment is warranted in light of this and the recent court decision against them. We feel vindicated and cautiously optimistic that we will finally be successful in shutting this operation down.”

In a statement, the companies said their permit has always imposed very stringent conditions regarding the protection of the environment that must be maintained.

The statement said that, with the legal challenges that have limited the operations and the revenue to approximately eight months out of the three-and-a-half years since the permit was first issued, responding to the ministry’s increasing requests for more study, and more review of the site, has been “very challenging”.

“Nevertheless, the site has to be run responsibly,” the statement said.

“The minister required more reporting by Dec. 20 of last year, and the requirement was met on Dec. 19. It was only on Jan. 27 that [the companies] received a response from the ministry asking for further work, and the companies will work diligently to provide further response.”

The statement said the companies “fully accept” that the site must be managed to the highest standard and that any technical concerns expressed by the ministry experts must be addressed.

“If those officials think it is important to suspend the permit until the scientific and technical questions are answered, that is consistent with the precautionary principle that should apply, and that judgement is accepted,” the statement said.

“It must be emphasized again that to date, there has never been any indication of environmental risk or harm [at the site].”

Earlier this month, The B.C. Supreme Court set aside a decision by B.C.’s environmental appeal board and reinstated a stay of the permit at the site.

The ruling came after a judicial review of the operation initiated by the Shawnigan Residents Association that was heard over 11 days by the BC Supreme Court last February as part of the SRA’s efforts to bring the facility to a halt.

Polak also informed the companies on Jan. 27 that they must continue to meet all monitoring requirements and ensure pollution does not occur regardless of the permit suspension.

“Further to that, I am also issuing a spill-prevention order to ensure appropriate measures are taken to reduce the risk of leachate escaping from the facility into the environment,” Polak said.

“My decision to suspend the waste-discharge permit is based on information and advice from my staff, who are technical experts in their field.”

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