Residents’ Association claims small victory

Success: Judge dismisses security-for-costs request.

It was a small victory but one that’s got the Shawnigan Residents’ Association hopeful for more.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Keith Bracken dismissed an application by Cobble Hill Holdings (South Island Aggregates) Friday that would have seen the Residents’ Association pay, up front, before moving ahead with any more legal action against the companies.

That money would have been used to pay the business’s legal fees of should the Association ultimately lose the case.

“It’s a small step but it’s in the right direction but it definitely helps build on the momentum that we’ve been getting lately,” Shawnigan Residents’ Association president Calvin Cook said Monday.

It’s been two years of setbacks and losses for the Residents’ Association in their battle against the owners of a controversial soil treatment facility in the Shawnigan headwaters.

The Residents’ Association has been busy trying to protect what they see as a major threat to the drinking water of more than 12,000 people.

In 2013, despite pleading from the Association and the greater community, and the hesitation of local governments, the province authorized South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings to collect and treat five million tonnes of dirty dirt over the next 50 years at its Stebbings Road facility which sits just above the Shawnigan community’s water supply.

The deal was the company could truck in 100,000 tonnes a year.

Despite vocal opposition from the community, spearheaded by the Shawnigan Residents’ Association, the Environmental Appeal Board upheld the decision to grant the permit this March.

The Residents’ Association hasn’t stopped fighting and on Friday they finally saw progress.

“Judge Bracken, in his decision, did state that there was an opportunity that perhaps if we were forced to raise additional money, that it may impact the pursuit of justice and I think that’s what really he’s after as well as the citizens of Shawnigan Lake and the rest of the province is just to know that justice does prevail here,” Cook said.

The security-for-costs application being dismissed was the Residents’ Association’s first victory on Friday.

The second came when the judge accepted more than 70 additional documents as evidence.

“Judge Bracken did agree to accept that evidence although he hasn’t made a ruling on it, he did agree to accept it,” Cook confirmed.

He said it was believed that all of the relevant documents had been presented during the Environmental Appeal Board hearings but that wasn’t the case.

“When we got the so-called secret agreements in early July… additional documents were presented and that introduced new facts to us and so that’s why we made that application to introduce new evidence,” he explained.

The Residents’ Association believes the documents allege that South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings made a pact with the engineers hired to do environmental risk assessment on the project, to share profits over the 50-year lifespan of the operation through two numbered companies.

“It does raise some serious questions in our mind as to what went on and actually what went on even during the Environmental Appeal Board hearings when there was testimony made that absolutely nothing was going on,” Cook said.

South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings owner Mike Kelly has maintained the agreement was never acted upon.

“It is simply a copy of a two-and-a-half-year-old abandoned agreement between the directors of CHH and our engineers that was never followed through with, even to this day,” Kelly said.

New documents have emerged, however, suggesting the companies were still working together as recently as 2014. Those documents have been accepted as evidence by the judge.

Cook said council for Cobble Hill Holdings/South Island Aggregates has said the companies can explain.

“Maybe there is a perfectly good explanation, a plausible explanation,” he said. “If there is, we’re looking forward to it.”