Stand With Shawnigan Wednesday, January 6th

The community of Shawnigan continues to stand up for our water, and on January 6th, we invite everyone to stand with us.

Fact:  The BC provincial government has approved a contaminated landfill at the headwaters of Shawnigan’s Designated Community Watershed, which supplies drinking water for 12,000 people.

Fact:  The Shawnigan community has been vehemently opposed to this proposal from the very beginning, and we do not accept the risk this site poses to our water, our community, and our future.

Fact: While the BC government says that the “science” makes this site safe, the reality is that only one engineering company – the company paid by the site owners – claims the site is safe.  This is the same company that made significant errors in its assessment of the site.  Ten independent scientists have raised serious concerns about the location, the geology, the hydrogeology, the water treatment system, and the engineering at the site.

Fact: There are currently two BC Supreme Court cases active right now, one disputing the legality of the facility based on local land-use bylaws the second disputing the decision of the Environmental Appeal Board.  Yet the BC government allows dumping to continue while these cases make their way through the courts.

On Wednesday, January 6th we are inviting media and politicians to Shawnigan Lake for the opportunity to see the contaminated landfill and the two adjacent lakes – Shawnigan Lake and Sooke Lake – from the air.

We also want to demonstrate our significant opposition to the site, and we invite all people to stand with us in a peaceful demonstration on the side of Stebbings Road, across the road from the landfill site, beginning at 9 am.

map to stebbings

For more information on what’s happening in Shawnigan Lake, please see:

Why are we doing this?

How did we get here?

When will it be enough?

Mary, we have a problem.


Why are we doing this?

SIA Protest Stebbings Road-2

It’s hard to believe what’s going on in Shawnigan Lake.

Doctors, realtors, teachers, home builders, nurses, scientists, young mothers and fathers, grandparents – people from all walks of life are putting their lives aside to give all their energy and effort to one thing: trying to stop the loads of contaminated soil being dumped on a mountain above our lake where the headwaters of our watershed flow.

And while the people gather over and over again there is a resounding silence from the provincial government.

Premier Christy Clark, Minister of Environment Mary Polak, and the Liberal MLAs are putting holiday greetings out on their social media pages, wishing everyone a safe and happy break, urging people to enjoy time with their families.

But there is not even a whisper from this government about what is happening in Shawnigan Lake, where hundreds get up in the freezing dark to stand on a road for hours, desperate for action from the government.

We would rather be home. We would rather be getting ready for Christmas. We would rather be sitting by a warm fire, sharing memories, dreaming about the year ahead, having a rest.

But we can’t.

We can’t because there is far too much uncertainty about what is happening in our watershed. Far too much activity that gives us great concern – water running off the site that bypasses the water treatment system, billowing clouds of cement and fly ash drifting down the mountain and landing in the trees and the creeks, and endless trucks of contaminated soil coming from Port Moody, dumping and dumping and dumping.

We can’t because we are painfully aware of the growing chorus of experts who have been raising the alarm about the risks this contaminated landfill poses to our community watershed.

Below is a compilation of some of the many concerns raised by experts – hydrogeologists, geologists, engineers, water treatment experts, and even the Ministry of Environment’s own statements.  Each excerpt is linked to the full report or document.


The presence of groundwater at the northeast corner of the SIA/CHH site has been a serious concern from the outset.

From the March 2013 report from hydrogeologist Dennis Lowen:

Lowen - groundwater


This was reinforced in a report by Alan Kohut:

Kohut supplementary

Even the potential presence of groundwater at the site is worrying.  Yet the Ministry of Environment defers to Active Earth’s findings on this, despite the many errors identified in their technical assessment.

We ask ourselves over and over why the Ministry would not take an abundance of precaution on this issue?

Water Management

Water management and water flow at the SIA/CHH site have become growing concerns over the last weeks. As we’ve entered the rainy season, the volume of water flowing off this site has increased enormously.

On Friday November 13th, a new stream emerged from the site, flowing directly onto CVRD property.

This prompted responses from CVRD and Ministry of Environment.

An engineering report commissioned by the CVRD amplified the concern about water management:

Thurber Nov 2015 2

Even the Ministry of Environment outlined their concerns:


Associated Engineering submitted their concerns to the Environmental Appeal Board in February 2014:

associated engineering flood barrier

Water Treatment

The adequacy of the water treatment system has been called into question repeatedly by experts.  Despite many requests, Ministry of Environment has not produced the “Water Treatment Commissioning Report”.

settling pond

In February 2014, Associated Engineering raised the following points:

associated engineering water treatment points

The November 2015 Thurber report raises questions about the operation of the settling pond:

Thurber Nov 2015

Associated Engineering summarizes its concerns with the water treatment system:

associated engineering water treatment summary

Ministry of Environment even raises the issue:


Given the list of toxins allowed by the MoE Permit, would it not be prudent to ensure that the water treatment system, meant to ensure that these toxins do not enter the stream flowing off the SIA/CHH site, is fully operational before the company dumps contaminated soil into the site?


From Associated Engineering’s 2014 report:

associated engineering more conclusions

Water Samples

Finally, the water samples that have been done since the breach on November 13th  provide little or no comfort to the citizens of Shawnigan Lake.

Madrone Engineering, commissioned by the CVRD, reported the following:

madrone 1

They also noted:

madrone 2madrone 3

Ministry of Environment tried hard to downplay their results, steadfastly ignoring the fact that they’ve maintained from the very beginning of this process that “all water leaving the site will meet strictest water quality guidelines”.

moe3moe2MoE 1

Deafening Silence

And so, as the citizens of Shawnigan Lake try desperately to stop the contaminated soil from coming into their watershed, the Premier of BC and the Minister of Environment say nothing, do nothing, take no steps to protect the people they swore to protect when then entered office.

bc liberals christmas message

But there is no Merry Christmas in Shawnigan Lake this year, and there are no good nights.  Only long dark, early mornings and anxious days filled with worry.

SIA Protest Stebbings Road-1-2.jpg

How did we get here?

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 trucks 2they 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?

pit photo

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:


Legal Actions

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.

Citizens Protest

So where does this leave us?

trucks 4

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.


Where does it go?

Want to know what is happening in Shawnigan Lake?  This video is a must watch.  You will see the beauty of Shawnigan Lake, the horror of what’s happening at the headwaters of our watershed, and the fury and determination of our community.

Song written and performed by Genevieve Charbonneau, video created by Catherine Wallace.

CALL TO ACTION – December 8, 2015

Key Communication Points

Call to Action Dec 8, 2015


There are serious risks to the community and issues of non-compliance with the permit:


  • The system to contain and treat water is not operating to compliance and may never be able to accommodate heavy rain falls. Following a heavy rain on November 13th, testing of untreated water discharges by the CVRD reveals trace metals exceeding BC Water Quality Guidelines.
  • The Ministry of Environment published December 2015 Questions and Answers that indicate three areas of non-compliance that are reported to be rectified by December 3. A December 3 Ministry letter to CHH reviews many areas of non-compliance including the need to identify qualified independent professional engineers who are overseeing the compliance activity. See MoE web link below.
  • The Ministry of Environment letter questions the settling pond, that was designed by a qualified professional in accordance with MoE guidelines, but is not meeting water retention times and clarity (TSS or Total Suspended Solids). Ministry of Environment water testing on November 17 shows water exceeds TSS guidelines for protection of aquatic life. SIA runoff storm water is bypassing the sediment pond by flowing underneath it and is being discharged directly onto CVRD property.
  • There is demonstrated incompetency of all CHH engineering professionals, the Ministry of Environment and its Environmental Appeals Board, who developed, proposed, reviewed, and approved the design for on-site water management. How can so much engineering review overlook the consequences of heavy rain? Is this not the most important management area for a contaminated soil dump in a watershed?
  • The Ministry indicates that there is no record of CHH reporting to the Ministry the occurrences of non-compliance in water management. The occurrences were discovered by complaints from the community. This is another area of non-compliance not counted by the Ministry.
  • There is no Ministry response to the evidence filed in the SRA legal case that alleges the applicant and its engineering firm have an agreement for profit sharing and that the permit was obtained by fraud and perjury in the Ministry’s statutory processes (including both the Ministry permit and Environmental Appeal Board processes). In any other government-commerical context, the evidence alone would be cause for cancellation of an agreement based solely on public accountability. The Ministry of Environment feels no such accountability and waits for the courts to decide what it cannot.
  • The Ministry correspondence, as evidence of its approach to permit issuance and compliance management, makes it very clear how a Mt. Polley disaster can occur. The statutory processes (including the EAB) and compliance management are not serving the public interest to protect the environment. The people of Shawnigan Lake and the MoE are very lucky that much higher levels of contaminates were not found in water discharging from the site. As the electorate, we need more than good luck.


Supporting Information on the Ministry of Environment Web Site:

New Action Focus – The Government of Canada

  • Any contaminants leaking or leaching from the SIA site pose a risk to the coho salmon and other fish in Shawnigan Creek and Shawnigan Lake.
  • The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is the federal Minister accountable to Parliament for all sections of the Fisheries Act.
  • The Minister of the Environment has the responsibility for administration and enforcement of the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act.

Please send letters to the following:

With a copy to:, MP for Cowichan-Malahat –Langford

Mail may be sent postage-free to any Member of Parliament at the following address:

The Honourable [Name of Member of Parliament]
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada K1A 0A6

Other Members of Parliament see:

Write Letters to the Editor

  • Write letters to the editor – try to keep these under 250 words and link them to other current stories in the papers (eg. Storm and rain events).
  • Monitor for communications, action plans and status updates. Send an email to Sonia at to be added to a distribution list for email updates.
  • Support SRA’s legal action plan through donations –

Letters to the Editor – Email Addresses

Victoria Times Colonist:

Cowichan Valley Citizen:

Cowichan News Leader:

Island Tides:

Victoria News:

Vancouver Sun:

Vancouver Province:

The Globe and Mail:

National Post:

Shawnigan Focus:

South Cowichan Echo:

Community Meeting Tuesday 7 pm

Please come out to the Save Shawnigan Water Community Meeting Tuesday, Dec 8, 7 pm at the Shawnigan Lake Community Centre.

small group of people

We will provide updates on Ministry of Environment communications, information about water sampling and the Thurber Engineering report, CVRD and SRA legal actions, and the decision of the judge on CHH/SIA’s application for an injunction against protesters.

We will also provide direction for the next steps to take as a community at this time.

SRA President Calvin Cook and I will speak, there will be the first viewing of a powerful new video, and lots of opportunity for questions and discussion.

So many people are working so hard on this issue right now – we benefit when we come together to support each other.  Be sure to invite your friends and neighbours.

To the Victoria and Cowichan communities – we need your support, your solidarity, and your presence.  Please join us.

I will see you there.


Make it stop

It’s raining, and I can’t sleep.

I can’t sleep for all the images in my head.  Images of water running off the ever-growing mountain of soil that’s coming from Port Moody’s Pacific Coast Terminals and being dumped in our watershed.  I see the water going into the tiny cracks all over the SIA site, making its way down to the bottom of the pit at the southwest corner, and rushing out into the stream that feeds our lake.

soil mountain.jpg

The soil is laden with sulphur, sodium, and chlorides – as well as hydrocarbons and heavy metals.

The water flowing out of the site and into the ephemeral stream has sulphur, sodium, and chlorides.  We can see that from the Ministry of Environment water samples.

sulphur, sodium, chlorides

What does this tell me?  Eight months into this ill-begotten permit, water that is coming into contact with the contaminated soil is going directly into our watershed – no containment, no treatment, no testing.  It is flowing unimpeded into the stream on the edge of the property.  A stream that flows into Shawnigan Creek, which flows into Shawnigan Lake.

This is exactly what we learned from the Thurber Engineering report that was released on Tuesday.

Thurber 1

(A link to the report is here – attachment A is the Thurber report.)

That would explain the empty settling pond.

settling pond.jpg

Every morning the trucks arrive, bringing more soil laden with sulphur, sodium, and chrorides to our watershed.

foggy trucks

Every morning citizens of Shawnigan Lake get up and head up the mountain on Stebbings Rd to try to stop the trucks that are dumping this material into our watershed.  Every morning the police eventually come and slowly shepherd the trucks in to the site.

trucks 2

The question that none of us can stop asking is why won’t the Ministry of Environment put an end to this?  What more will it take to stop this insanity?

trucks 4

This is our home.  This is our water.  This is our community.

This has to stop.