How did we get to this place, this time, in which the people of Shawnigan Lake hear the sound of rain and feel dread?
How is it that grandparents and students, mothers and fathers, feel that they have no choice but to stand in front of 40-tonne trucks on a lonely road half way up a mountain? Community Story
How has it happened that the Ministry of Environment, a government agency that has a duty to protect the citizens of BC, seems to have acted against us for nearly four years?
How is it that the interests of one company have over and over again trumped the health and well being of an entire community?
The Story of Shawnigan vs South Island Aggregates/Cobble Hill Holdings
In July 2012, South Island Aggregates (SIA) owners Mike Kelly and Marty Block, along with engineers Matt Pye, Jeff Taylor, and David Mitchell from Active Earth Engineering, came to Shawnigan with their plan to turn their rock quarry into a contaminated soil landfill. The quarry is located half way up a mountain at the south end of Shawnigan Lake over the headwaters of our watershed.
The community said no.
Records of a public meeting show that out of over 350 people who attended, only two voiced support for the proposal: the quarry owner’s daughter Nikki Block and Michael Harry, the Chief of the Malahat First Nation. Minutes from July 2012 Public Meeting
(Michael Harry resigned in August as a result of allegations of payoffs from SIA, detailed in court documents: Times-Colonist article.)
But the Ministry of Environment (MoE) moved forward, allowed the company to apply, and issued a draft permit in March 2013.
Again the community said no.
Three hundred letters were submitted to Hubert Bunce, MoE’s Statutory Decision Maker. Not a single letter was in support.
Again MoE moved forward, and in August 2013 they issued Waste Discharge Permit 1050809 to SIA. (The permit is now in held by Cobble Hill Holdings – CHH – also owned by Mike Kelly and Marty Block .)
The permit allows the company to bring in 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil each year for the next fifty years and dump it into the Shawnigan Lake community drinking watershed.
Here’s a partial list of the toxins allowed by the permit:
Again the community said no.
The CVRD and the Shawnigan Residents Association (SRA) filed appeals of the permit to the Environmental Appeals Board (EAB). Letters of opposition from the Cowichan Tribes First Nation, the local MLA and MP, Vancouver Island Health Authority, and the Capital Regional District were all submitted.
Over 31 days between March and July 2014, the EAB heard testimony from ten expert witnesses, including geologists, hydrogeologists, engineers, and a water treatment specialist. All experts raised concerns about the suitability of the site and about the engineering and design of the landfill. Some of the expert opinions can be found here.
Active Earth, the engineering firm that assessed the site and designed the landfill, and who were wrong about there being “75 metres of impermeable rock” underneath the site, did not testify. Their Technical Assessment Report, with the many errors identified during the hearings, is available here.
On March 20th, 2015, the EAB released its decision to uphold the permit, deferring over and over again to the information provided by Active Earth, despite the engineers not having been subject to cross examination during the hearings, and despite the many inaccuracies in their reports that were identified during the hearings. EAB Decision and Final Permit
Letters and Rallies
Again the community said no.
Hundreds of letters were written to Mary Polak, Minister of Environment, and to Premier Christy Clark, asking them to revoke the permit. Within five weeks, a petition with over 15,000 names had been generated. A rally at the Legislature was held on May 13th with over 1600 people in attendance. Cowichan Valley MLA Bill Routley presented the petition in the Legislature, but the Minister of Environment walked out rather than stay and accept it. Rally coverage in Times-Colonist and on Global TV.
On the same day, SIA/CHH announced they were “open for business” and ready to accept contaminated soils. Chek News Report
More Legal Actions
The community continued to say no.
The CVRD moved forward with its petition to the BC Supreme Court to have its zoning bylaws upheld. The land on which the landfill is located is not zoned for a landfill facility or contaminated soil facility. The case was heard in November 2015, and we await a ruling. CVRD Action
The Shawnigan Residents Association (SRA) also moved forward with their application to BC Supreme Court for a Judicial Review of the EAB decision. This case will be heard in January 2016. SRA Legal Archive
Allegations of Conflict of Interest, Perjury, Fraud, Bribery
In July 2015, a document that outlined a business partnership between SIA/CHH and their engineers, Active Earth Engineering, was anonymously delivered to the Shawnigan Residents Association. It is a signed contract in which the two parties agree to a 50-50 split of profits from the contaminated landfill. See July 8 2015 Affidavit #2 of Calvin Cook
The community thought that surely, given that the company and its engineers had concealed this partnership throughout the application process for the permit, and denied its existence under oath during the EAB hearings, the Ministry of Environment would have sufficient grounds to at least suspend the permit until the courts had heard the case. But the Ministry took no action, continued to allow dumping at the site, and sent the message out to all of BC that they are comfortable with permit applicants misrepresenting themselves throughout an entire permitting process. Vancouver Sun Story
Breaches, Water Testing, More Conflicting Science
Eight months into operations of their 50-year permit, during the first heavy rainfall of the year, a new stream of water was found leaving the site. The breach was reported to MoE not by the company, as required by their permit, but by local residents who discovered it.
VIHA issued a do not use water advisory for South Shawnigan Lake that lasted for five days.
MoE came back with water sampling results, which found elevated levels of Aluminum, Iron, and Manganese – and told the community not to worry – it will just taste bad and stain our clothing. But we do worry.
What happened to the promise that “all water leaving this site will meet strictest drinking water and aquatic life guidelines” – the mantra of the Minster of Environment from the beginning? Chek News story
We worry because at every turn, what we are told will protect us does not in fact protect us.
The impermeable rock does not exist – it’s fractured bedrock, so water seeps into the ground.
The engineering is faulty, so water bypasses the “water management and treatment system”. (See the engineering report commissioned by the CVRD.)
Evidence of non-compliance is documented and compiled daily by community, yet MoE allows the dumping to continue. Even when the Ministry acknowledges serious issues with the water management systems, they don’t take action. Letter to CHH from MoE
Instead of what has been promised to us by the company and the government from the start – that water leaving the site would meet the strictest water quality guidelines – we have, eight months into this 50 year permit, water leaving this site that nobody would want to drink. And that water flows downhill to Shawnigan Creek, which flows downhill to Shawnigan Lake, which then flows through Mill Bay and into the Saanich Inlet.
So where does this leave us?
Members of the Shawnigan community have spent weeks on the road in front of the SIA site, trying to stop the dumping in what seems to be the only way that’s left to them – by blocking trucks.
They also spend their days walking along the fence that marks the boundary between SIA and the CVRD park next door.
Ongoing non-compliance has been documented and submitted to MoE and MEM – with little or no response.
Mary Polak has the authority under the Environmental Management Act to suspend or revoke this permit. But she chooses to allow the dumping to continue, day after day, in our community drinking watershed.
Despite the allegations of misrepresentation, fraud, perjury, bribery.
Despite numerous instances of serious and ongoing non-compliance with the conditions of the permit.
Despite water samples that suggest that everything is not okay. (Mary, We Have a Problem and Make it Stop).
Despite the vehement and steadfast opposition of our community, and an ever growing number beyond. (When Will it be Enough?)
And each time it rains, the Shawnigan Lake community feels dread – dread about what kinds of toxins are coming off the contaminated soils that have already been dumped in our watershed.