Soil protest ramps up with $30K from school

If it can happen in Shawnigan, it can happen in your community, too.

That is one of the messages that the Shawnigan Residents Association is aiming to spread in their continuing fight against the movement of contaminated soil into the Shawnigan Lake watershed, with a new billboard erected Wednesday, Jan. 22 on the Patricia Bay Highway heading into Victoria.

"It’s our way of trying to get the word out there," said Calvin Cook, the SRA’s vice president.

The SRA, alongside the Cowichan Valley Regional District, is in a battle with South Island Aggregates, a company that has been granted a permit by the provincial Environment Ministry to accept thousands of tonnes of contaminated soil in a gravel pit on its site in the watershed.

The movement of the soil onto the site is currently stayed while the CVRD and SRA appeal the permit.

Because such facilities can generate significant revenue, and the existence of contaminated soil creates a need for such facilities, Cook said they realize dirty dirt will be deposited somewhere. But there are some places in our communities that it shouldn’t go.

"All we’re saying is they’re not allowed within the ALR, they’re not allowed within a park, surely they shouldn’t be allowed within a community watershed," he said. "We understand nobody wants these in their backyard, but is a community watershed even a place that should be entertained to put these?" Due to rainfall amounts and the proximity to Shawnigan creek, Cook said, SIA’s property is not a good choice.

"It just seems like this would be one of the first places that you would strike off the list," he said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by David Robertson, headmaster of Shawnigan Lake School, which announced last week it was donating $30,000 to the SRA’s legal fund.

The lake, he pointed out, is a vacation and water sports destination. The school, which is located on the lake, uses the water for a number of programs, including their highly successful rowing program.

Robertson said he is still hopeful that those fighting the importation of contaminated soil will be successful.

"Ultimately, I actually can’t quite fathom how anybody would be wanting to dump anything that had the least bit of toxicity in it up high in a watershed when we know the laws of gravity," he said. "The whole idea seems to be so counter to what people are doing from an environmental point of view these days, and so when I heard of what was going on months and months ago we couldn’t understand it."

Robertson said he wrote to the premier on behalf of everyone in the Shawnigan Lake area. The school also has several students on the board of the Residents Association, where they are learning the ins and outs of the political process.

"As the biggest employer in the area, and an organization that really feels a part of this community, we felt that we had to show some leadership in this whole business, in the fight," he said. "It would be such a shame for everyone to have any sense of a tainting of the reputation of the lake."

With the placement of the billboard in a spot where everyone coming from the airport and the ferries will see it, along with visibility for many Greater Victoria commuters, Cook said they are looking to generate more support from outside of the Cowichan Valley.

It’s particularly important as the group thinks they’re in for a long legal battle against the permit.

"We’re going to need as much support as we can get," Cook said.

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