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Shawnigan asks for dumping stay during soil appeal

logo-cowichan-news-leader2By Peter Rusland - Cowichan News Leader Pictorial
Published: August 29, 2013 3:00 PM

The Shawnigan Residents Association applied to the Ministry of Environment today for a stay of contaminated soil dumping in the Shawnigan watershed until its Aug. 26 appeal of the dumping permit is heard.

It is the first step of many expected as opponents attempt to reverse a 50-year provincial permit allowing South Island Aggregates to dump five million tonnes of soil into a quarry off Stebbings Road, south of the lake.

B.C.'s Environmental Appeal Board will also hear from the Cowichan Valley Regional District during a 30-day window ending Sept. 21, the start of an appeal process that could take months.

SRA has prepared for a costly fight against the permit issued Aug. 21 by environment ministry bureaucrat Hubert Bunce.

SRA's Jason Walker didn't have estimates handy about how much "incredibly expensive" legal bills will total from lawyers Sean Hern and Robert Anderson.

"We've submitted a notice of appeal, and we're asking for an oral appeal so witnesses can be called and examined," he said.

"We're fighting our own government, and they have deep pockets; the burden of this (cost) is on the backs of residents."

Shawnigan Lake Director Bruce Fraser signalled the deck was stacked against 300-odd folks who made submissions to the MOE opposing the treatment plan.

"The process is only sensitive to technical material. Public concern was not relevant," he said. "This was not Hubert Bunce's problem; the government set the legislation in motion."

Bunce and Environment Minister Mark Polak were unavailable to talk to the News Leader Pictorial. However, the ministry's Jennifer McGuire explained Bunce outlines his reasons for issuing the permit — and the conditions governing it — in a 20-page letter.

The ruling, McGuire explained, was based on provable data supporting the proposal concerning treatment, safeguards, monitoring and more.

"The weight for issuing a permit is the same for denying a permit," she said.

SIA must meet a list of ministry guidelines on site refuse discharge, water treatment systems, settling ponds, treatable materials, holding areas, weather protection, erosion, dust and odour control, and more.

Sampling of incoming and treated soil, ground- and surface water, and air quality to provincial standards, plus quarterly and annual environmental reports, are also stipulated.

Ministry agents visit high-risk facilities a minimum of once a year, McGuire said, more if non-compliance is suspected. The ministry can levy $1 million fines per infraction, tickets, remedy orders and more, she explained.

That's cold comfort to residents fearing water pollution and drowned property values.

Still, Saanich-area resident McGuire answered 'No' when asked if she'd be worried by Bunce's decision if she lived in Shawnigan.

SIA announced last week it would begin using what will be the island's largest contaminated-soil treatment facility immediately.

If an appeal succeeds, the EAB would provide directions about any soil processed during the appeal.

A response to the stay application was pending at press time Thursday.

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