Bill Routley, MLA, responds to the Throne Speech in the BC Legislature concerning the fight to protect our water source (Source: Hansard, February 12, 2015)
Routley: The throne speech talks about the issue of air, water and protection — oh, it's going to be so wonderful. Here we need to speak the truth in this place about what's really going on. The statements in the throne speech are one thing, but here is what really happens.
The Minister of Environment gave the permit. The Minister of Health was recently confronted by one of our area directors. He was confronted by CVRD director Sonia Furstenau, who represents area B, Shawnigan Lake. Apparently, she was told: "The process will protect you." Well, I hope so. We're going to find out eventually, but they were forced into a process to spend over $1 million trying to defend the community. I say it's totally unacceptable that a government's actions would result in that kind of situation.
My question is: what is the process that we're talking about here? Is it just about a process of getting to yes? Or is it really a process that includes some fairness for the community? By the way, Sonia Furstenau recently got elected. She knocked on close to 1,000 doors in the region and got way more than half of the voters in her electoral area to support her. Why do I mention this? Because based on her position — to continue to fight to stop this contaminated soil dump — she got more than half, close to 60 percent, of the voters in the region to support her in her commitment to carry on the battle.
In this government's throne speech, government says: "Protecting the environment means setting world-leading standards, but it also means making change when change is needed." Wow. British Columbia will continue to take the lead, it says. We can only live in hope in the Cowichan Valley that this government would really make it happen for the people of Shawnigan Lake, that this really means something, that it's not just more jiggery-pokery. Will the government actually step up to the plate and do the right thing for Shawnigan and cancel this permit?
Currently, just over the mountains from here, Shawnigan Lake residents continue to live in uncertainty and fear about the tonnes of contaminated soil this government has permitted to be dumped in the Shawnigan watershed. While we have had an Environmental Appeal Board hearing that ended last July, we have no decision yet. Think about that — living with this whole matter undecided, living with the uncertainty and fear, living with falling real estate values. The uncertainty has resulted in real estate values falling. It's impacting Shawnigan Lake businesses and investment decisions.
According to Bruce Fraser, who I recently talked to, former director for the Shawnigan region, three years ago the people of Shawnigan were informed of this proposed plan on Stebbings Road, at the top end of the Shawnigan watershed, to dump contaminated soil in the site. The proposal would allow South Island Aggregates, a gravel company, to bring 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil each and every year for 50 years and dump it on their site, while still operating as an active quarry. The contaminants listed, included in the permit, were dioxins, furans, phenols, hydrocarbons, arsenic, lead, chlorides and a myriad of other toxins and chemicals known to be harmful to human health.
The people of Shawnigan were united and vocal in their resistance to this plan, but the opposition has been consistently and steadfastly ignored by this government.
In March 2012 the Ministry of Environment went ahead and issued a draft permit. More than 300 people took the time to send written submissions that highlighted the potentially negative environmental, health, social and economic impacts of this proposed site.
Both I as MLA at the time and, for that matter, all political parties running in the 2013 election — and I mean all parties, including the Liberal candidate — said this was an unacceptable proposal and should not be permitted. It was ridiculous and outrageous. Everyone agreed. We had all the communities, the CVRD, the CRD, Cowichan Tribes, VIHA. The provincial Health Ministry even added their voices to the opposition.
The Ministry of Environment's designated or statutory decision-maker, a fellow named Mr. Bunce, found none of these concerns to be compelling. In August 2013 the Minister of Environment issued the final permit. We'd been on a draft permit; we now got a legal permit.
The CVRD, the Shawnigan Residents Association and three Shawnigan area residents, John and Lois Hayes and Rick Saunders, immediately filed appeals and took it to the Environmental Appeal Board. In spite of all the overwhelming community opposition, this process went ahead.
I've got to tell you: I smell a rat. I don't know how, or who was connected in behind the scenes, but it is just wrong. It makes no sense whatsoever that the entire community, all of the community mayors, all of the associations, all of the groups were absolutely opposed, yet we're going to dump upstream of Shawnigan Lake. Uphill and right near streams, right near wells, we're going to dump contaminated soil.
The hearings were scheduled for March, and a stay was issued, preventing South Island Aggregates from bringing in contaminated soil until after the hearings. In December 2013 the company, SIA, applied for a variance of the stay, and in February the Environmental Appeal Board allowed them to bring in 40 tonnes of contaminated soil before the hearings commenced.
Now hear this, hon. Speaker. During the hearings we all learned that in their sworn affidavit the owners of SIA provided false information. This is now a matter of public record, by the way. I made sure I checked that. They provided false information to the Environmental Appeal Board. They claimed, for example, that their water treatment system was now operational, and it was not. It was not operational.
There were 20 days of hearings scheduled. In the end the hearings lasted 32 days, with additional dates in April, May, June and July added as it became apparent that the volume of evidence required more time.
Again, think about all of this effort and activity. What could we have done with that money to help the community? Instead, what was going on was hurting the community. The SRA and the CVRD brought in numerous expert witnesses. This is the residents association. They brought in geologists, hydrogeologists, engineers and water treatment specialists. All of the experts agreed that the information presented by SIA's engineers, Active Earth, was inaccurate, insufficient and, at times, wholly misleading.
One of the misleading things that they told the entire community…. And this is critical. They said that it was going to be on impervious granite. It was going to be impervious to any leakage. We discovered it was fractured rock, not impervious, and that there was no impervious layer of rock where the soil was going to be dumped at all. So this was totally misleading and incorrect.
One expert on record commented — of the proposed site that was selected — that this is crazy. There were lots of other opportunities for siting that could have been proposed, but this was not a good one.
What's very interesting, Active Earth — the engineers whose survey and design of the site formed the basis upon which the Ministry of Environment issued the permit — did not even testify at the hearings. Now, isn't that telling? What does that tell you when the other side doesn't even produce any evidence? It tells you that they know that they didn't want to hear what they had to say because they were in real trouble.
Yeah, the Ministry of Environment had lawyers there. They had their lawyers there. There were lawyers there for the company. And the decision was made not to put their so-called experts even on the stand, so I believe that's very telling.
Indeed, there were no experts testifying on behalf of SIA to defend the site or its plans. In their defence, only one of the co-owners appeared. During his testimony it was revealed that the only public support came from the Malahat First Nation, which was agreed to in a confidential agreement between the two parties.
[Madame Speaker in the chair.]
Mr. Block, apparently, in front of the panel did not want to tell the truth, under oath, that such an agreement even existed, until the document itself was entered into evidence by the residents' lawyers. In exchange for their support, the Malahat band was promised a 330 excavator and qualified operator for up to seven weeks as well as the services of SIA engineers to address drainage issues, road grading issues and compacting services there in Malahat band as well as preferential employment for Malahat members at the SIA site. Again, they had been asked to keep this in a confidential manner.
It was also revealed that SIA owed Active Earth more than half a million dollars — isn't that interesting? — $540,000 owed to the proponent, who was basically, I suggest, going to get paid if this process succeeded. It's unacceptable.
I see that we've now reached the lunch hour. I adjourn the debate and look forward to holding my place for my next or earliest opportunity.
B. Routley moved adjournment of debate.
B. Routley: Just to quickly review where we were, we were continuing in our discussion about the kind of jiggery-pokery that goes on with the Liberal government that continues to this day, I can assure you. You'll see the evidence for that in just a minute here.
One of the problems that this government has is a reliance model, a professional reliance model, wherein they relied on the proponent, their expert, in doing something like dumping contaminated soil in the watershed in our beautiful Shawnigan Lake region. For the good people of Shawnigan Lake, I just want to read into the record what the government actually had the audacity to say in their throne speech, because they'll be very interested and very disturbed at the same time.
I quote, under the heading "The Environment" in the throne speech, it says: "B.C. will continue to lead on responsible economic development by continuing…." Imagine this, people in the Shawnigan region, where they're continuing to dump contaminated soil. They're saying they're going to continue "to protect our clean air, our clean water and our land." Just the opposite is what's going on in the Shawnigan Lake region.
They also carry on here with: "We will continue to provide a positive example to the world that there is no need to choose between economic growth and fighting climate change."
What fight on climate change? Ask the good people in the Cowichan Valley region what's going on with the river and the fact that we continue to run out of water and actually have to truck fish up the river. Five times in the last ten years this has gone on, with the help of volunteers, to rescue the iconic salmon in what is known as a B.C. heritage river from being decimated by a drought.
Why? It's because this government knows — they've seen the record — that there are continual climate change impacts, continually dwindling water supplies. Yet they have not been, and refuse to be involved in, developing a fulsome plan of action.
Now, where I left off we were reviewing one of the…. This is the professional reliance that the Minister of Environment relied on. Just think about this for a minute. They actually relied on a group that is now owed…. It came out as evidence, under the Environmental Appeal Board, that the company, the proponent, South Island Aggregates, owes Active Earth $540,000. They made this admission that they actually owe more than half a million dollars.
They certainly are owed that based on the success of whether or not this thing goes ahead. So the proponent has a monetary reason. Of course, this raised many questions about the reliability of Active Earth's reports. They had given, and had, considerable financial ties to the proponent of the contaminated site and a vested interest in the outcome of the permitting process.
That's a serious matter, in my opinion. It was impossible to condense the 32 days of hearings, but some of the most pertinent details were highlighted during the closing argument. I just want to go over some of what was put forward in the closing argument put to the Environmental Appeal Board. This is relevant to what we're talking about — clean air, clean water — that was part of the throne speech.
"Most importantly, the experts who testified were unanimous in their concern about the location of this proposed contaminated soil site. It became glaringly clear that this is indeed a wholly inappropriate site for this type of dump and that the contaminants would present a clear risk, not just to the environment but to the long-term safety of the drinking water." This is dumping arsenic, all kinds of health risks to the community, as a result of this toxic brew that they're planning on dumping.
"It also became clear that in the process of granting the permit, the protocols for selecting this site for contaminated soil were wilfully overlooked and ignored."
Secondly, the statutory decision-maker, or SDM, for the Ministry of Environment clearly was derelict in his duties. Now, can you imagine this? "Not only did he not once visit the site before issuing the permit in August 2013; he neglected a significant number of his responsibilities, as outlined in the ministry's statutory decision-maker handbook" — which, of course, he was taken through by the lawyers.
They asked him: "Did you do this? Did you do that?" The answer was that he didn't follow the handbook that he, as statutory decision-maker, ought to have to thoroughly review, you would think, in something as important as this.
"Some of the responsibilities that he did not fulfil included ensuring that the process was transparent, consistent and fair; having in-depth knowledge and specialized expertise; consulting with First Nations." The Minister of Environment's designate did not even respond to the Cowichan Tribes' opposition to this proposal.
It's clear, when you look at the list of experts and their analysis and reports, that the government was relying on a flawed process with people that had a monetary incentive to be less than forthright in their whole issue. It certainly wasn't anything about the public interest.
They were not addressing the public's concerns or verifying the accuracy of the information and reliability of the experts. They did not assess the current compliance and performance, as well as the financial stability, of the applicant. This is only an abbreviated list of the requirements that the Minister of Environment's designate did not fulfil.
Again, I suggest that what was really on this designated representative's mind was that it was all about their continued focus on getting to yes. They were getting to yes before they even did their due diligence. It's my view after reading some of the evidence that came out as a result of those days — day after day and weeks and weeks — of hearings.
Finally, as the hearings progressed, we learned of the questionable practices of South Island Aggregates. They are currently operating as a quarry under a Ministry of Mines permit, and there have been instances of non-compliance with the permit in the past. These include possibly blasting below the water table level as well as blasting into neighbouring CVRD parkland.
As the lawyer for Shawinigan Residents Association pointed out in his closing arguments, Mr. Block, who is one of the co-owners, committed perjury several times while under oath at the Environmental Appeal Board hearings. What does that tell you about the suitability of the operator to reliably oversee a self-regulating permit?
The evidence against the proposal has been overwhelming. The notion of putting the drinking water of 12,000 people at risk for the benefit of one business is insane, one of the representatives of the professional group suggested.
The environmental panel has promised to be efficient in its decision-making. We do not know when the ruling will be issued, and we do not know if they choose to uphold the permit. However, the community has already said that they are committed that they will choose to continue to fight.
The next step is a judicial appeal. Shawinigan Lake community is now holding its breath, hoping for an outcome that they have fought so passionately for. I hope that the minister will listen and cancel this permit.