Shawnigan man prepping for class action lawsuit

A Shawnigan Lake property owner is urging the provincial government to take responsibility if residents are hurt financially by the granting of a permit to South Island Aggregates to dump contaminated soil in the Shawnigan watershed.

Ron Witherspoon is a member of the Shawnigan Lake Residents Association and is doing preparatory work to be ready for a class action lawsuit if things come to that, but at present he’s watching events unfold and gathering evidence.

"The association is conducting an appeal to the Environmental Appeal Board. If we lose that action and contaminated soil starts coming into the watershed then we do have evidence of harm and we can take an action against the province for granting the permit and against the SIA if their actions cause a drop in property values," he said. "I’m proposing to launch a class action suit but you don’t launch a lawsuit until you’ve got irrefutable evidence of damages so we’re not at that stage with the SIA issue yet."

Witherspoon said he has been watching with interest the way the federal government is handling a similar problem in Port Hope, Ontario, where it has designed a program to compensate property owners who have been affected by the dumping of contaminated soil there.

He is approaching the B.C provincial government in the hope of getting it to step up and take responsibility for losses by Shawnigan Lake area property owners caused by the dirty dirt situation going on there now and in future.

There are several concerns that need to be considered, said Witherspoon, whose background is in banking.

These include losses on the sale of property, loss of rental income and mortgage renewal difficulties.

He said he had recently spoken to a Shawnigan Lake woman who was finding it harder than expected to renew her mortgage, and to property developers and realtors who are fielding concerns about possible property purchases in the area, apparently because of the threat of contamination from the dirty dirt dumping. Witherspoon said there is also need for the province to compensate developers and the local economy for the construction of 1,800 new homes which are in the planning stage for Shawnigan Lake watershed and to deal with possible reduction of economic opportunities in the watershed, where businesses, schools and tourism "are likely to be negatively impacted by the stigma of carcinogens in the watershed."

It’s time to gather bits of evidence into a dossier for a possible lawsuit, he said.

"If the BC government is of the opinion that there will be no negative impacts from granting this permit, they need to put their money where their mouth is and provide a guarantee to the residents of the watershed. If they are right, this program will cost them nothing," he said.