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News Leader: What's the matter with just saying 'no?'

Shawnigan Water RallySteve Housser leads an April rally in Shawnigan Lake against the SIA soil treatment proposal.— Image Credit: Tyson Jones

by Peter Rusland - Cowichan News Leader Pictorial

posted Dec 25, 2013 at 5:00 PM

What part of 'No' does Victoria not understand about dumping dirty dirt near Shawnigan Lake?

Let's hope they get all of that short word.

It's been said loudly enough this year by Shawnigan residents fighting South Island Aggregates' permit to dump and treat five million tonnes of fuel-laced soil in its quarry off Stebbings Road.

Clearly, treating contaminated soil in a senstive watershed could be a recipe for Cowichan's largest environmental disaster since Crofton pulp mill's polluting ways of the 1970s and '80s.

It boils down to which science you believe: SIA's studies explaining safeguards, under the environment ministry's permit, to protect Shawnigan's watershed from pollution leaks; or data from Shawnigan Residents Association's hydrogeologist, who had grave doubts about SIA's plans.

But unlike our justice system, it can't be a case of innocent until proven guilty when it comes to environmental risks.

There's no such thing as a 'clean-up'. Once that nasty genie is out of the bottle, the damage is forever.

Our Environmental Appeal Board is tasked with mulling SRA's appeal of SIA's permit.

To the EAB's credit, it granted a stay on importing and dumping soil in SIA's pit until after the formal appeal.

But that reprieve will be cold comfort if the permit sticks.

It was OK'ed by senior ministry bureaucrat Hubert Bunce after reading data from both sides.

Bunce also read 300 letters from residents demanding the permit not be granted.

Then he sadly approved it, missing the chance to legally nix SIA's scheme.

Folks fear drinking and bathing water will be fouled, along with Shawnigan Lake's ecology, amid sinking property values.

Hope shines from a Supreme Court ruling, requested by the Cowichan Valley Regional District, about if Victoria granted SIA's permit without properly considering CVRD zoning.

But zoning arguments didn't stop the ministry's permit for treating dirty dirt in the Evans gravel pit off Koksilah Road a few years back.

The CVRD should have played its SIA zoning card far earlier than two months ago.

Cowichan's other contaminated sites include one off the Malahat, where the CVRD won a court ruling ordering the landowner to remove the mess.

But there's been no police enforcement. No arrests, or fining of offenders.

Now residents rightly suspect phantom trucks dumping waste — including construction debris — in Cowichan.

The Warm Land has become The Dump Land to some people.

Think of the SIA permit appeal as an eco-Alamo. If the SRA loses, all Cowichanians should walk the walk of protest to protect our environment.

Some have promised to block dump trucks. Those promises could come due in 2014.

Peter W. Rusland is a News Leader Pictorial reporter.

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