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Residents, regional district plan appeal of Shawnigan soil facility

logo-times-colonistSANDRA MCCULLOCH / Victoria Times Colonist
AUGUST 21, 2013

Shawnigan residents and the Cowichan Valley Regional District say they will appeal the granting of a permit allowing South Island Aggregates to establish a soil remediation facility in the Shawnigan Lake watershed.

Jason Walker, spokesman for the Shawnigan Residents Association, said he was "not at all surprised" to hear that on Wednesday the province granted the permit, which will allow truckloads of contaminated soil to be transported and dumped at the SIA site.

"We will be making our appeal to the Environmental Appeal Board in short order," he said.

"We'll also be applying for a stay to make sure no soil is dumped until this matter is dealt with."

A rally will be planned for those wanting the permit rescinded, he said.

Bruce Fraser, Shawnigan's director at the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said the government went through the motions of public consultation and, from that, added a few more constraints to the permit.

"The ultimate bottom-line here is there is a finite risk to the watershed and they were prepared to take it," Fraser said.

A technical committee made up of government and regional staff will review results of regular testing.

Fraser said he doesn't have any faith in the process as it's set up.

"Most of the monitoring will happen after the fact, and after you've polluted an aquifer or polluted a lake, you cannot reverse it," Fraser said.

The timing of the permit, as many people are enjoying summer holidays, is suspect, he added. "What this shows is either a degree of monumental insensitivity or cynicism that the public concern doesn't matter or that it's really only a technical matter for technical people to decide."

The CVRD board issued a statement saying it has directed an appeal be launched. Board chairman Rob Hutchins said the SIA operation is in a watershed serving 7,000 people.

"I'm extremely disappointed in this decision by the Ministry of Environment for potentially putting the community and the environment at risk," Hutchins said in the statement.

The provincial Environment Ministry received about 300 submissions in response to the draft permit issued in March, a ministry statement said.

The process for issuing the permit is based on technical merits to ensure the contaminated soil will not pollute the surrounding area, said Jennifer McGuire from the environmental protection section of the Ministry of Environment.

The value of public input is that it "provides the opportunity for local government and First Nations and the public to raise questions and identify concerns which can then inform the places where there needs to be additional technical assessment and review," McGuire said.

Concerns about drinking-water safety "were heard, loud and clear, and the technical review of the application and the additional measures that were put in place on SIA were focused specifically on drinking water being protected."

Permits like this do not have an expiry date but compliance is a requirement, McGuire said.

The ministry will follow up with inspections to ensure SIA complies with the terms of the permit, she said.

The results of the inspections will be reviewed annually by a technical advisory committee made up of representatives from the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the CVRD.

The public will have the opportunity to monitor the data as it becomes available, McGuire said.

SIA president Mike Kelly said he was pleased to get the permit, saying it reflected "the rigorous environmental and technical assessment" the company did to show waste can be safely treated and landfilled at the location.

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