Soil fight goes to B.C. Supreme Court

Just days after a rally at the Victoria Legislature to protest the importation of contaminated soil into the Shawnigan Lake watershed, the Shawnigan Residents Association and the Cowichan Valley Regional District announced that they are petitioning the B.C. Supreme Court to halt dirty dirt being dumped onto a local property.

The SRA has filed an application for judicial review, and is seeking to have the court set aside the decision of the Environmental Appeal Board, which reinforced the legitimacy of a Ministry of Environment permit to allow South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings to import millions of tonnes of contaminated soil to gradually fill a quarry they are mining on their Stebbings Road property.

The site is within the Shawnigan Lake watershed and sits above the lake, with feeder waterways nearby.

The SRA wants the permit revoked.

"We believe that the issuance of this permit and the decision of the Environmental Appeal Board were based on significant errors," said Calvin Cook, president of the SRA.

"As a result, we will carry this fight to the next level," he said.

"The safety of our water and our environment is paramount. The SRA simply cannot stand by in these circumstances and allow five million tonnes of contaminated soil to be trucked in from elsewhere and dumped in our watershed. The community is overwhelmingly against this landfill.

"The science is on our side; the site has not been shown to be suitable. That the government still supports this facility is deeply troubling," said Cook.

The CVRD petition to the court asks that CVRD Zoning Bylaw No. 985 be enforced in relation to the SIA property, which would shut down any dumping of contaminated soil on the site. Contaminated soil treatment and landfill facilities are not a permitted use of the property within the F1-Forestry zone under the bylaw.

"Local governments have the legislated authority to regulate land use through official community plans and zoning bylaws which ensures the uses of land are consistent with the desires and interests of the community," said Shawnigan Lake Electoral Area Director Sonia Fursentau. "A contaminated soil treatment and landfill facility is clearly not the desire or interest of the Shawnigan Lake community."

Furstenau has long been opposed to the permit, as has a majority of the Shawnigan Lake community she represents.

South Island Aggregates and Cobble Hill Holdings President Mike Kelly disagrees that the science is against the permit, and says the new actions by the SRA and the CVRD are clearly politically motivated.

The business is disappointed with the continuing legal action.

"This application follows one of the longest and most extensive Environmental Appeal Board hearings to date, which upheld the decision of the Ministry of Environment," he said. "This next legal challenge will only ensure that CVRD residents continue to pay millions more in outside legal fees, while much needed infrastructure projects go unfunded, and the issue of unregulated dumping continues to be unaddressed."

Kelly said that the real threats to the watershed don’t come from his project, but instead come from failing and non-existent septic systems on the lakeshore, motorized vessel use on the lake and the struggling economy.

The company’s legal team is reviewing the matter, he said. Action could include civil litigation against "individuals and organizations found to be interfering with our operating business."

The company is also continuing the construction of the facilities required to accept and store the contaminated soil.

The SRA has planned a peaceful demonstration on Sunday, May 24 from 1-4 p.m. at the Trans Canada Highway and Deloume Road in Mill Bay.