Tidings of Hope

The holidays are here, and I am enjoying the deep contentment that I feel when we have all our children home at the same time.

I am looking forward to the days ahead which will bring much cooking and feasting, laughter and story-telling, and (hopefully) some precious quiet moments for rest and reflection.

We have two sons’ birthdays to celebrate in these busy December weeks, and so last night was a family birthday outing to the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One.

I have been going to Star Wars movies since I was seven years old, and while I lament the path they took in the initial reprisal of the series, I confess that I have enjoyed Episode 8 and this latest backstory.

Something resonates for me – particularly given the last few years we’ve had in Shawnigan – in the story of a small group of feisty rebels standing up against a heartless empire that is more concerned with power than governance.

Tonight, one line in particular stood out for me: “Rebellion is built on hope.”

Hope has been the one thing that I have refused to abandon.  Not for one moment have I given up hope in the outcome that we have been fighting for so hard in Shawnigan.  My hope is deeply entwined with my belief that every effort that each of us make leads us toward the inevitable conclusion of this story: that the permit will be revoked.

Last year at this time, we were mounting our own rebellion as a community – a rebellion against what has felt like a heartless government more concerned with a company’s good fortune than a community’s future.

The final outcome of our rebellion has not yet been achieved (although it will be, eventually), but other outcomes, many of which we could not have predicted, have been.

Two stories out of Shawnigan caught my attention this week.

The first story started out on social media, on the Shawnigan Lake Events, News, Links, Community Forum facebook page.

christmas

Within three days, a family that was facing a Christmas with very little instead is now able to enjoy a tree, a feast, gifts, and provisions.

christmas-2

This captures so completely the spirit of this season – generosity, kindness, compassion, community.

And the second story from Shawnigan also embodies all of these, but extends much further.  CBC National News featured an account of a Shawnigan resident, Jennifer Gwilliam, who is using social media to help families in Canada’s north.  Her facebook page, Helping our Northern Neighbours, connects families here with those in communities up north who face incredibly high costs for food and necessities.  Jennifer acknowledges that long-term solutions are being worked on, but that in the meantime, families in the north need support and help right now.  Her story is both moving and motivating, and it shows that one person can make an enormous difference in the lives of many.

It almost makes me think there must be something very special in the water in Shawnigan.

lake

Photo credit: Laura Colpitts

Over the last few months, I have been contacted by people across the country who have told me that they would like to move here, partly because of the beauty, location, and climate, but also because of what they have seen of our community.  Others who have stopped in or spent a little time in Shawnigan have told me that they come away longing to be part of this place.  One resident of Victoria had stopped in at Shawnigan House and ordered a coffee, then realized that she’d forgotten her wallet in her car.  In the minute or two it took for her to get back to the counter, somebody in the café had paid for her drink.  “I want to live in Shawnigan,” she told me.  “I want to live in a place with that kind of community.”

At one point this last year, after we’d received bad news on the watershed front, a friend said to me, “hope is like putting your heart in a lion’s mouth.”

Her words struck me deeply at the time, as I did feel pain in my heart as we navigated through yet another disappointment.  But even through the pain, my hope has been – and will remain – relentless.

We were hoping for news from Justice Sewell, and we were hoping for a swift response from the Ministry of Environment.  We have not yet received either, but we have learned that our hope must be not only anchored in belief, but also wrapped in patience.

My hope for all this season is some peace, some joy, some rest.  I know that it can be a difficult time for many, but I also see so much compassion, generosity, and kindness – and for this, I am grateful.

Thank you to the people who step up and find ways to make things better, who light a single candle rather than curse the darkness.

You give me hope.

 

 

Will this deadline have any meaning?

Today is the deadline for CHH to submit “an updated closure plan, revised cost estimate, revised security, and reports detailing the review of contact and non-contact water management systems” to Ministry of Environment. This is not the first deadline this company has had to submit these reports – that was actually June 2016, as agreed to by MoE and CHH way back in January 2016.
But the company didn’t meet that deadllne.
A letter from June detailing that missed deadline can be found here.
In August, MoE sent another letter to the company, reminding them that they’d missed the deadline.
Then in October, Mary Polak, the Minister of Environment, sent a letter telling the company she was considering suspending or revoking their permit, since they had missed their deadlines.
In November, Minister Polak sent yet another letter, telling the company that she was “affording Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. the opportunity to submit information to me by December 20, 2016, which specifically addresses the non-compliant requirements identified. I will reserve my decision regarding the status of Permit 105809 at this time.”
Today, I learned that the company has until midnight tonight to get all of the documents and reports submitted.
And we wonder, of course, if this deadline will have any more meaning that the deadlines of the past.  Will the company, which has been been out of compliance with their permit for over a year, be given any more extensions, or is this truly the final deadline?  Will the fact that the water sampling throughout October shows in no uncertain terms that this company is not meeting the requirement that all water discharged meet the strictest drinking water and aquatic life protection guidelines have a bearing on the Minister’s decision at this time?
And what does the site look like these days?  Here are two collections of photos – one from late November and the other from a few days ago.
The circumstances that we facing as a community are outrageous and unacceptable.  If the Ministry of Environment had heeded the warnings of the independent scientists who identified problems with the location, the geology, the hydro-geology, the design, and the engineering of this site, we would not be in this situation – indeed, the Ministry could have done the right thing at the beginning and refused to issue a permit that allows five million tonnes of contaminated soil to be dumped at the headwaters of our watershed.
But it’s never too late to do the right thing, and to correct the mistakes of the past.  The Minister has the authority – and every reason – to revoke this permit, and order that all soil be removed from this site.  It is the only acceptable course of action at this time.
As we have so many times before – we await a decision.
Let’s hope that this time, it’s the right one.  But if it’s not – we remain undeterred and steadfast in our determination to see an end to this nightmare our community has had to endure for so long.

Who decides?

We anxiously await news on yet another decision on the matter of the contaminated landfill in our watershed.  It takes a terrible toll on our community to have these decisions – decisions that impact our water, our community, and our future – in other people’s hands.  And it makes no sense to us that decisions impacting our watershed and our drinking water have been made over and over again by people who don’t live in this community or drink our water.

And yet, this is the reality we have had to live with for over four years.

Justice Sewell indicated that he would make an effort to give judgment on the Shawnigan Residents Association (SRA) Judicial Review case by the middle of December.  No news so far, and while we wait, we endure the consequences of a misguided decision by the BC Ministry of Environment.

A brief recap of the SRA’s case:

The lawyers for the SRA filed a petition to the BC Supreme Court in May 2015 seeking a judicial review of the Environmental Appeal Board’s decision to uphold the Ministry of Environment’s decision to issue a permit to Cobble Hill Holdings that allows the company to import and landfill five million tonnes of contaminated soil at the headwaters of our watershed.

In July, August, and November 2015, the SRA submitted three more applications to the courts which included evidence of an alleged 50-50 profit sharing agreement between Cobble Hill Holdings and Active Earth, the engineers who signed off on the suitability of the location for a contaminated landfill and submitted the design for the landfill.  The applications also included hundreds of pages of documents, including emails between the two companies.

The Judicial Review was finally heard in the BC Supreme Court in February 2016, after several earlier court dates in the summer of 2015.  We had all hoped for a swift decision from Justice Sewell, but the decision from Justice Mackenzie in the CVRD case seems to have resulted in a slower decision-making process from Justice Sewell.

While these processes slowly weave their way through the court system, what has been happening up at the landfill?

The company imported contaminated soil throughout the summer of 2016, after being granted a stay to the injunction that had been imposed by Justice Mackenzie.  Most of the soil came from the CFB Esquimalt, where remediation of the gravings docks has been ongoing.

On October 8th, during the first real rainfall of the season, a significant breach of contact water occurred at the site.  (You can read about it here: More rain, more concerns.)  This resulted in a Pollution Prevention Order from the Ministry of Environment, and one of the requirements of the order was that the company provide water sampling results to the Ministry.

MoE has published the sampling results up to November 5th on their website (we still await the results from November and early December).

I have spent some time looking through all of the available results, and the data tells a worrying story.

Remember that the permit that was issued to Cobble Hill Holdings is one that authorizes the company to “discharge treated effluent” to the environment.  The permit very clearly states what the quality of that discharged effluent must be:

permit-condition

We have been raising concerns for over a year that the company is not meeting this fundamental requirement of the permit.  (See: Mary We Have a Problem & What Will it Take.)

The water sampling results from October and November make it abundantly clear that in no uncertain terms this landfill site is failing to meet its permit conditions.

Let’s take a look at the data – all of which comes from the Ministry of Environment website. I have compiled it into a spreadsheet (don’t worry – I’ll break it down into bit-sized pieces below).

water-sampling-data

 

Now let’s take a closer look at what’s happening.

Each of the metals that exceeds either a drinking water or aquatic water guideline is highlighted in a colour that corresponds to that guideline (the bright pink for Iron indicates that the levels exceed more than one guideline).

water-sampling-above-limits

Between October 8th (date of the contact water breach) and November 5th, ten metals were above the stated guidelines at least twice, and in some cases every time the samples were taken.

Let’s look at these one at a time.

aluminum

Aluminum levels in the discharge water were at 1370 µg/L on October 8th, the day of the contact water breach.  Twelve days later, the levels rose to 4570 µg/L, then to 7560 µg/L.  On November 5th, nearly a month after the contact water breach, Aluminum levels were more than four times what they were on October 8th, and nearly 57 times above Health Canada drinking water guidelines.

chromium-graphChromium levels in the discharge water rose significantly on the day of the contact water breach (for comparison, chromium levels in Shawnigan Creek  above the landfill site are 0.27 µg/L – which means that on October 8th, the levels at the discharge point were more than 100 times higher).  Over the course of the rest of October, the levels went down, and then back up again on the 20th and 21st.  Five out of nine samples exceeded the guidelines for the protection of aquatic life.

cobalt

Cobalt exceeded the aquatic life water quality guidelines twice – on the day of the breach and again on October 21st.  It is also interesting to note on October 8th, cobalt levels in the discharge water were 670 times higher than the levels in Shawnigan Creek above the landfill site.  Even at the lowest levels at the discharge site on October 16th are 28 times higher than the level above the site.

copper

Copper levels exceeded both chronic and acute guidelines for the protection of aquatic life, and saw three spikes – October 8th, October 20th-21st, and November 5th.  In Shawnigan Creek above the landfill site, there is less than 1 µg/L, meaning levels at the discharge site have been between 2 and 32 times higher than upstream.

ironWhat’s interesting about the Iron levels in the discharge water is that they were not particularly high on the day of the contact water breach, but they have been consistently high over the course of the entire month, with significant spikes on the 20th, and 21st of October, and then again on the 5th of November.  These levels are up to 28 times above Health Canada drinking water guidelines, and over 70 times higher than the levels in the creek above the landfill site.

Lead.pngLead levels at the discharge site varied from a high of 11.3 µg/L on October 8th down to 0.3 µg/L on October 16th.  They climbed again on the 20th/21st and on November 5th.  It’s again important to note that there is virtually no lead (0.054 µg/L) in the creek above the site.

manganese

Manganese levels also spiked three times over the course of the month – the pattern of these spikes seems to be demonstrating that the contact water breach was not limited to October 8th.

silverSilver also spiked significantly on October 21st.  Note that silver is undetectable in Shawnigan Creek above the CHH site, and significantly above aquatic life guidelines on October 21st.

vanadiumVanadium levels rose on October 8th, 20th/21st, and November 5th, and exceeded BC guidelines for protection of aquatic life four times over the month.  On October 8th, Vanadium was 64 times higher at the discharge site than what has been measured in the creek above the landfill.

zinc

 

Zinc followed the standard pattern as well.  Note that zinc is undetectable in the creek above the site.

Those are the metals that exceeded one or more of the water quality guidelines that the BC Ministry of Environment has specified must be met under the conditions of the permit.

And that’s just in one month.

What about some of the other metals in the water over the course of this month?

Let’s start with metals that are undetectable upstream from the site:

boronnickelphosphorussulfur

It would appear that these metals have been introduced to our watershed environment by the CHH site.  The Ministry of Environment will contend that these metals do not pose a health risk, but that is missing the point, as far as I’m concerned.  These metals do not occur naturally in the ecosystem, and they are being introduced by a landfill operation that should never have been allowed in the first place.

Then let’s look at metals that do appear in the upstream testing results.

A few figures to note in all of this.

Silicon is up to ten times higher at the discharge point than upstream, Barium and Strontium 30 times higher, Calcium 36 times higher, and Magnesium 44 times higher.

Sodium is up to 50 times higher, Chloride 90 times higher, Sulfate 148 times higher, and Titanium 217 times higher.

And the turbidity of the water?  A whopping 318 times higher at the discharge point than upstream.

turbidity.png

Now there may be those who say this isn’t scientific enough – and I readily admit that I am a historian, not a scientist (which may explain why I look for trends over time).

However – the independent scientists who assessed this site for its suitability for a contaminated landfill over four years ago identified the location, the geology, and the hydrogeology as presenting a risk to water in the area.

lowen-2012

Denis Lowen pointed out a few more problems with the landfill proposal:

site-hydrologyAnd the company’s claim that water quality would be protected by liners?

lowen-on-linersThis brings us back to the question of who decides what happens in our watershed.

So far, not a single one of the decision-makers has been a person who drinks water from the Shawnigan watershed.

  • Hubert Bunce, Statutory Decision Maker for Ministry of Environment
  • Alan Andison, Brenda Edwards, and Tony Fogarassy, Environmental Appeal Board Panel Members
  • Justice Brian D. Mackenzie, BC Supreme Court (who decided in favour of the CVRD and imposed what turned out to be a short-lived injunction against the company)
  • Justice Pamela A. Kirkpatrick, BC Court of Appeal
  • Justice Daphne Smith, Justice Gail Dickson, Justice Gregory Fitch, BC Court of Appeal
  • A.J. Downie, current Statutory Decision Maker for Ministry of Environment
  • Jennifer McGuire, Executive Director, Ministry of Environment

And now we await another decision from Justice Robert Sewell of the BC Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the BC Ministry of Environment has all of the information above, and has downplayed the fact that this company is consistently out of compliance with the most basic requirement of its permit (ie. that all water discharged meet water quality guidelines for drinking water and protection of aquatic life).

Minister Mary Polak has issued two letters (Oct 11th and Nov 4th) to the company – after a year of their refusal to do what was being asked of them by ministry staff – and she has given them until December 20th to produce water management reviews of contact and non-contact water.

But I contend that Minister Polak has all the information she needs in order to make the right decision and revoke the permit that should never have been granted in the first place.  We are just 21 months into a 50-year permit, and the problems keep getting worse.

If the Minister won’t make the right decision, she can be assured that the people of Shawnigan will never give up.  Ultimately the decision should be ours – the risk is borne by us, the consequences are borne by us, and the long-term impacts are borne by us.  And we have been clear from the very beginning – we do not accept this contaminated landfill in our watershed, and we never will.