Contaminated soil: when will it be enough?

This is what it has come to in Shawnigan Lake. A young mother, and a grandfather, standing together in front of a 40-tonne dump truck

Sonia Furstenau guest columnist

This was the image that accompanied a message that arrived in my inbox at 7:32 a.m. this morning.

This is what it has come to in Shawnigan Lake. A young mother, her baby strapped to her chest, and a grandfather, standing together in front of a 40-tonne dump truck before dawn on a cold December morning.

I can’t look at this image without weeping. I weep for all the lost mornings, days, afternoons, evenings, and nights. I weep because of the insanity of this situation, the colossal unfairness of it, the unbelievable injustice that is playing out day after day in this community. I weep because all of us would rather be home at seven in the morning, drinking coffee with our families, getting our kids off to school, thinking about the day ahead.

I weep because each day we lose more faith in the agencies that are supposed to protect us.

Every morning, we return to the mountain. Sometimes dozens of us, sometimes only a few, but we return because this situation — a company being allowed by our government to dump contaminated soil in our watershed — is an affront to democracy, to common sense, to logic, and to science. And it is a threat to our survival as a community.

For three and a half years, we thought we had enough to make this stop.

We thought 300 people coming to a public meeting where all but two people expressed vehement opposition to the plan of putting a contaminated landfill in our watershed would send a clear message to the government, and would be enough to stop this foolish plan in its tracks.

We thought that over 300 letters written to the Statutory Decision Maker would be enough.

We thought that the opposition of the CVRD and the CRD, VIHA, Cowichan Tribes, and the people of Shawnigan would be enough.

We thought that hundreds and hundreds of letters to MLAs, ministers, and the premier would be enough.

We thought that nine expert witnesses at the Environmental Appeal Board hearings, including geologists, hydrogeologists, engineers, and a water treatment specialist — all of whom identified problems with the site assessment, the plan, the design, and the engineering — would be enough.

We thought that over 15,000 signatures collected and presented to the Minister of Environment in the Legislature would be enough.

We thought that 1,600 people on the Legislature lawn, speaking with one voice, would be enough.

We thought that documenting the long-standing history this company has of non-compliance with its mines permit would be enough.

We thought that documents revealing a secret agreement between the owners of the site and their engineers, who were acting as “qualified professionals” would be enough.

We thought that allegations of  bribery and misrepresentation throughout the entire permitting process would be enough.

We thought that evidence of a breach of water off the site would be enough.

We thought that evidence of a water treatment system that does not function as designed would be enough.

We thought that ongoing documented non-compliance with the MoE permit would be enough.

We thought that water samples that show that this site is already impacting our environment would be enough.

We thought that an engineering report that identifies that water leaving this site is bypassing the water containment, treatment, and testing systems would be enough.

But nothing seems to be enough.

We will continue to ask the Ministry of Environment, and Minister Polak, to do the right thing and protect our water.

But until they decide to act on behalf of the citizens of Shawnigan Lake rather than on behalf of one company, what we have left are our bodies, and our willingness to put our bodies in front of 40-tonne trucks.

Sonia Furstenau is the area director for Shawnigan Lake

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