The owners of South Island Aggregates say the three-year fight over the dumping of contaminated soil at their Shawnigan site has been as frustrating for them as it has been upsetting for area residents.
This week, the Environmental Appeal Board allowed soil dumping to begin on a limited basis.
The five-week appeal to be heard by the board will begin March 3, reviewing the issuance of SIA’s permit.
The Ministry of Environment granted the permit to store contaminated soil – much of it from Greater Victoria – in SIA’s quarry.
Marty Block and Michael Kelly, partners of South Island Aggregates Inc., said opponents had not considered the science that underpins their project.
Block and Kelly have not commented to the media until now, breaking their silence in an interview this week that included SIA’s consulting engineer David Mitchell.
"We’ve done the science," Block said. "The ministry spent three years considering it … and they’ve given us a permit."
Five ministries reviewed the application prior to it being granted, he said. Still, the Shawnigan Residents Association and the Cowichan Valley Regional District have opposed the venture, saying it threatens the security of the Shawnigan watershed.
"We’re going forward," Block said. "The problem going forward is how do we mend the fences or is it even possible?" The CVRD has said the facility has no place in Shawnigan, Block said. "All they’ve said is, ‘We don’t want it,’ and they’re fear-mongering through the whole community."
CVRD chair Rob Hutchins declined to comment, citing the matter being before the review board and the courts.
Before the limited dumping that has been allowed can proceed, SIA must post security funds, ensure safety mechanisms are in place and prepare the initial soil-deposit cells.
The optics of having Victoria’s dirty dirt dumped in Shawnigan were not good, Block and Kelly admitted, but
they said the SIA project would benefit the south Island by helping to eliminate the illegal dumping of contaminated soils that has occurred.
"We are the solution to cleaning up contaminated sites," Block said.
"This whole region was developed due to historic industrial activity – Shawnigan Lake was founded by forestry," said Mitchell.
The site can only accept material that is non-leachable, such as asphalt.
"The oil and other contaminants are not leaching out of the soil, they’re attached to it, such as how oil is attached to asphalt," Mitchell said.
That soil then goes into encapsulation cells, which are lined with clay and a plastic barrier.
"Our conclusions that this rock is basically impermeable, that water isn’t flowing through it to any significant extent, is supported by there not being a big pond in the quarry," Mitchell said.
"Water isn’t pouring into the [quarry], even though we’re below the water table. There’s lots of measures in place and lots of assurances on just how long this liner will last."
Politics are at play here, too, Kelly and Block said.
"The people who riled up the locals wasn’t us – it was the politicians trying to get re-elected.
"Instead of the politicians talking about facts and figures, they made stuff up as they went along," said Kelly.
The Shawnigan Residents Association hired a hydrogeologist to look at SIA’s
"He said on transcript that all he had time to do was look at our website," said Kelly.
"He never set foot on our property and came to major conclusions that our site would never handle this."
The public has an unrealistic idea of what contaminated soil is and the risks it presents, said Block.
"The soil we’re bringing in is so benign," said Block. "These liners and this stuff is completely redundant."
He said the extra measures were taken by SIA "because we’re scared … too about the lake – we want to make sure it’s done right."
Shawnigan Lake School donated $30,000 to the residents’ association without talking to SIA, said Kelly.
"People are spending a lot of money for their kids to get smart there and some of them are going to become engineers … and [school representatives] wouldn’t take the time to talk to us," Kelly said.
Block said he’s not been able to get an appointment with headmaster David Robertson.
"Everyone in the community stands to be affected by this dumping of waste," Robertson said.
"We felt we should get behind the cause and show some leadership, too."
Robertson said he is happy to look at SIA’s data "but I can’t get beyond the basic illogicality of dumping anything that is contaminated up high. The basic laws of gravity … will dictate that things are going to fall downhill."