Kevin Glass is urging land owners in some areas in the southern section of the Cowichan Valley to appeal their property assessments.
Glass owns a 17-acre property close to the controversial contaminated soil site near Shawnigan Lake and claims the site’s impact on his land, and many others in the community, has been negative in many ways, including property values.
He said he bought his property in 2013 and his property assessments have been “all over the place” since then, but never increased much in value until last year when its value jumped 20 per cent.
Glass said he believes that was likely the result of closure of the contaminated soil site, owned by Cobble Hill Holdings and South Island Aggregates, when the province pulled the site’s operating licence after years of lawsuits and demonstrations.
But he said his latest property assessment, which he received earlier this month, was down four per cent, and he believes that it’s related to the fact that the Ministry of Environment has determined since the landfill closed that the approximately 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil at the site would not have to be removed as demanded, and expected, by many in the community, and would just have to be capped with tonnes of uncontaminated soil.
That has raised fears in the community of water from the contaminated soil leaching out of the site and finding its way into nearby Shawnigan Lake, from which many residents draw their drinking water.
“There are also lots of other soil dump sites in this area, although they are supposed to contain only uncontaminated soil, due to development pressures in Victoria and the roads and infrastructure in this area are not constructed to handle the large amount of truck traffic to these sites, so they are crumbling by the day,” Glass said.
“New and existing wells in the area are now showing signs of contamination with readings of heavy metal counts from the run off and ground water near these sites. This year, I smelled sulfur in my drinking water. I paid $815,000 for my property and now I’m skeptical about drinking the water.”
Cliff Evans, a director with the Shawnigan Basin Society, agreed that sediments and other materials from multiple soil landfill sites are making their way into Shawnigan Lake, impacting drinking water and increasing the amount of nutrients in the lake that have been instrumental in the proliferation of invasive species like milfoil.
“Tests have proven that at least one person has lead in his drinking water, but we can’t prove the connection to the soil sites yet,” he said.
“One of our concerns is with the devaluation of properties as a result.”
Bernie Jurrlink, vice president of the society, said the Cowichan Valley Regional District gives permits that continue to allow these soil sites to operate and could stop it at any time.
“Although the district has said it is making some amendments to its [soil] bylaw to better monitor the operations,” he said.
Glass said he believes that his property, and the properties of his neighbours in the Shawnigan Lake and Malahat areas are not being assessed at their true market values.
“These soil dumps continue to put pressure on the residents’ property values and reducing the ability for resale as the area is considered a risky investment and an unsafe environment,” he said.
“How can we be the high-end neighbourhood that we should be with all these dumps all around us? When people come off the Trans Canada Highway, there’s no sign welcoming them to Shawnigan Lake, just dumps.”
Aaron Stone, chairman of the CVRD, said it is well within property owners’ rights to challenge their property assessments and encouraged people to do so if they want their properties reassessed.
But he said small decreases in property values are a trend in many jurisdictions of the Island this year, not just the Shawnigan Lake and Malahat areas.
However, Stone acknowledged the concerns in those areas about the proliferation of soil dumps and said the CVRD attempted to address the practice in 2017 with the implementation of a soil deposit bylaw that would have regulated and managed the deposit of soil on lands within the regional district.
“But the original bylaw was refused by the province because the government claimed it has jurisdiction over the reclamation of mining sites in B.C. and it supersedes that of the CVRD,” he said.
“The bylaw is an ongoing challenge for the district, but it has also been challenged by others in the community who fear their property values would be lowered if it was felt the bylaw would make bringing in more fill into the area more difficult.”
However, the CVRD’s board did vote unanimously last year to adopt a revised version of the soil deposit bylaw, which includes application fees and security deposits for the first time.
As for the contaminated soil site and the fact that the province has allowed the soil to remain in place, Stone said it’s “disappointing”.
“It’s certainly not what many had hoped,” he said. “We’ll continue to challenge and advocate for our citizens in regards to these soil dumps, and if people want to reach out to me and the CVRD with their issues, we’ll do what we can for them.”
Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau was one of the leaders of the fight to shut down the contaminated soil site when she served as director for Shawnigan Lake with the CVRD.
She said that, in her opinion, the province has let the proliferation of soil dumps in the southern part of the district get out of hand.
“It’s very frustrating,” she said.
“The Shawnigan Research Group has written numerous reports on this issue, and I have written a letter to [Environment Minister] George Heyman, but he has yet to respond.”
Furstenau said that before consideration of issuing permits for soil dumps is given, the decision makers should first ascertain what the outcomes for local water supplies would be; including impacts on the water supply, its resistance to fires, changes in the climate and other issues.
“We need to look at the whole picture,” she said.
“Parameters need to be set and consideration needs to be given as to what watersheds are supposed to provide. It’s possible that we can get there, but it will take political will.”
A statement from the Ministry of Environment said soil is allowed to be deposited on private or industrial land without approval if it meets industrial land-use standards set out in the Contaminated Sites Regulation.
The statement said concerns about siltation occurring from regulated industrial facilities, such as a landfill, can be directed to the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277, and concerns about all other siltation should be directed to Environment and Climate Change Canada.
“With respect to trucks hauling soil to [the contaminated soil site], the importation of the soil advances the work of the closure plan and it will stabilize the landfill, reduce any chance of erosion and support better tree and vegetation growth,” the statement said.
“The soil currently being brought in is from a previously undeveloped site. It has been assessed and signed off by a contaminated-sites approved professional. Any future soil sources will also need to be approved.”
The statement said that although the Cobble Hill Holdings landfill site is no longer operating, the company is responsible for maintaining and dealing with the site under the Spill Prevention Order.
This includes a final closure plan and ongoing monitoring with a regular presence at the site.