Shawnigan contaminated soil fight likely to grind on for years to come

What happens to the soil now?

The fight is over in one way, but we doubt we’ve seen the last of the strife over the contaminated soil facility in Shawnigan Lake.

It was welcome news this week to longtime opponents of the landfill, owned by South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings, that the proponents are not planning to go to the province or the court to try to get their permit back, meaning that the importation of contaminated material has stopped, for good.

But there is still the matter of the soil that is there.

The companies had been allowed by the province to import massive quantities of contaminated soil to backfill their quarry. A large group of Shawnigan Lake residents, bolstered by other supporters, were immediately alarmed by this plan, as they contended that the soil, and any runoff from it, threatened the health of the water in Shawnigan Lake, located below the industrial site.

Which brings us to the crux of the issue that remains.

While no new soil will be brought to the site, there is already a significant amount of contaminated soil there. What is the future for that material?

The company has said it is talking to the province about what it has to do to close the site. Those requirements may not include removing the contaminated material. We think that it’s actually most likely that they won’t.

With the companies looking into legal options to possibly bring a case against the province to recoup some of what it says is a $20 million loss, it’s highly unlikely the companies would be forthcoming in going above and beyond what they have to do.

And yet the soil protesters have made it clear from the start that they will not accept an outcome where the contaminated soil stays.

Their main argument, after all, is that it poses an unacceptable risk to the lake.

With further litigation seeming likely at this point, it could be years yet before we’ve finally heard the last of this ill-fated undertaking.

It’s been a grinding, expensive and rancorous fight on all sides.

It’s crystal clear that we need further regulations governing where contaminated soil can go in this province, or we’ll likely find ourselves right back in the thick of it again in the future.