We Stayed Strong, Shawnigan

On the morning of January 24th, many of us gathered in the village – as we have so many times over the last year – to await yet another court decision.

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The last three times we gathered have been devastating, as the BC Court of Appeal undid the BC Supreme Court decision that ruled the Cobble Hill Holdings (CHH) site was not permitted under the CVRD’s zoning bylaws. In April and May, the Court of Appeal allowed the company to continue importing contaminated soil, despite the injunction that had been put in place by Justice Mackenzie. And in November, the Court of Appeal overturned Mackenzie’s decision, delivering yet another blow to our community.

We were understandably nervous Tuesday morning – anxious that we would be facing another disappointment, that we would be having to rally ourselves for yet another round in a fight that has seemed so monumentally unfair.

And so, when the decision arrived and it was a positive one – setting aside the Environmental Appeal Board’s decision and reinstating the stay on the permit – we were elated.  It had been ten months since our last victory, and we finally had something to celebrate. The victory was made so much sweeter by the judge’s emphasis on how CHH and Marty Block had misled the Ministry of Environment and the Environmental Appeal Board about the relationship between CHH and Active Earth – confirming what we have been saying for years.

Then, three days later, a second victory.  At 5 pm on Friday afternoon, the Minister of Environment released a letter stating that “permit 105809 … is suspended effective immediately” and she stated that CHH must provide the following within 15 days:

  • An updated cost estimate for closure that is prepared and signed by a qualified professional and is fully consistent with the attached Landfill Criteria for Municipal Solid Waste
  • Security, in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit, consistent with the requirements of section 8.6 of the 2016 Criteria
  • A draft non-contact and contact water management review report (or reports) that corrects all the deficiencies identified in the attached Ministry Review dated January 19, 2017

And while we’re not finished yet – the permit still needs to be revoked and the soil needs to be removed – we have made two very giant strides towards the end of this nightmare.

We all can celebrate these victories – which have been hard won – and at the same time step back and consider the incredible list of injustices that we have borne as a community.

A Community Ignored

From the very beginning, the Shawnigan community has been abundantly and consistently clear: we did not accept the risk that this landfill posed to our watershed.

Right back to 2012, the community has been standing up and saying no.

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The Shawnigan Residents Association hired independent scientists to assess the proposal, the site, and the engineering – and their opinions were clear: this was an unsuitable location and the landfill would pose a threat to our water quality.  (See reports here and here.)

The community began its efforts to engage with the provincial government right from the outset – hundreds voiced their concerns at the Public Meeting in July 2012, and hundreds more wrote letters once the draft permit was issued.

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Citizens John and Lois Hayes and Rick Saunders filed their own appeals of the permit, along with the CVRD and the Shawnigan Residents Association (SRA).  The Environmental Appeal Board hearings took 31 days over five months – and many of us attended or watched online, learning about the serous concerns of the independent experts.  We were also shocked by what we perceived as blatant unfairness during the hearings – particularly when the panel refused to allow evidence or to hear witnesses brought forward by the SRA.

Justice Sewell has confirmed that the EAB was indeed unfair in his ruling.

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On the last day of the EAB hearings, on a rather cold morning in July, a small group of us gathered on the street out front trying to raise awareness of what was at stake.

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We waited eight months for the EAB to make its decision, and when it came (on a Friday afternoon) it was a devastating blow to our community.  But we didn’t give up – we geared up.  Nearly 300 people came to a community meeting on March 24th, 2015, and we decided that we would work together as a community for as long as it took.

CHEK News Report, March 24th 2015: Minister won’t intervene in soil dump dispute – this was the first of several large community meetings we’ve held since the EAB decision.

After the EAB decision, 15,000 signatures were collected, hundreds more letters were written, and rallies and protests began.

In June, 2015, Elizabeth May joined the Shawnigan community at the contaminated soil facility.  Protesters Blockade Contaminated Soil Site

The opposition to the permits was overwhelming and the support was non-existent, but that in no way swayed the provincial government.  All our pleas, our evidence, our research, and our efforts were dismissed, and over and over again Minister Polak talked about her “technical expert staff” and the “independent qualified professionals” who were assuring her that everything was fine.

The attitude prevailed among other ministers too.  I approached Minister Terry Lake, who signed the original permit, at a conference in Kamloops in early 2015 and shared my concerns with him.  “You people,” he said to me with contempt.  “You people don’t understand that the process will protect you.”

A Broken Process

But the process didn’t protect us – it endangered us.  The process was weighted against us, against independent scientific evidence, and against common sense.  The process seemed to have a pre-determined outcome (otherwise known as “getting to yes”) and it seemed that the pre-determined outcome controlled the process.

Consider what was lacking from the process – which included the Environmental Appeal Board hearings.

Landfill siting study?  Nope.

Independent environmental assessment?  Nope.

Equal weighting of scientific evidence that conflicted with that of the engineers hired by the company?  Nope.

Consideration of the previous actions of the proponents, including non-compliance with their Mines permit?  Nope.

Consideration of the experience of the proponents or their engineers with designing, engineering, and managing a contaminated landfill site?  Nope.

Consideration of the opposition of the CVRD, VIHA, Cowichan Tribes, the Shawnigan community, the CRD, and the City of Victoria?  Nope.

And worst of all, when it was revealed over 18 months ago that Active Earth, the engineers who assessed the site and designed the landfill were in a 50-50 profit-sharing deal with CHH, the Ministry of Environment did nothing, and allowed soil to continue to be imported to the site.

Their excuse?  “The matter is before the courts.”  The result of their inaction is a giant pile of contaminated soil in our watershed that is already leaching heavy metals into the environment.

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Court Battles

The CVRD and the SRA filed applications in the BC Supreme Court.  Both won their cases.  The CVRD’s win was overturned by the BC Court of Appeal; the CVRD Board decided to appeal its case to the Supreme Court of Canada.  It will be at least a few months before we will know if the SCC will hear the case.

The ruling delivered on January 24th by Justice Sewell, which set aside the Environmental Appeal Board’s decision and reinstated the stay on the site (thus preventing any contaminated soil being brought it) was a scathing indictment of the CHH owners.  Justice Sewell pointed out again and again that Marty Block and CHH “misled” the Ministry of Environment and the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) about the relationship between CHH and Active Earth.

Justice Sewell also ruled that the EAB “appears to have applied different standards” for the SRA than it did for MoE staff, and that it “did not act fairly in the manner in which it received opinion evidence.”  He raised serious concerns about the Ministry of Environment’s process, and went to far as to say that this case “strikes at the heart of the integrity” of Ministry of Environment’s approval process.

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These court challenges have been enormously costly.  The CVRD case is payed for by residents of the Cowichan Valley (we did receive $10,000 from Union of BC Municipalities, and we have applied for additional funding from them).  The SRA, under the leadership of Calvin Cook, has been doggedly fundraising for years to cover its legal fees, and the lawyers who fought the case – Sean Hern and Robert Anderson – have been significant contributors themselves.

The travesty is that these cases should never have been necessary.  The BC Liberal government should have respected the CVRD’s zoning bylaw, and not allowed the landfill based on the fact that it was not a permitted activity according to our zoning.

And the Ministry of Environment should have heeded the warnings of independent scientists who provided convincing evidence that the location was wholly unsuitable for a contaminated landfill.  What those experts said would happen – that contaminants would leach out of the site and enter our environment – has been happening for the last several months.  (See Mary, the problem is getting worse.)

Had the government acted to protect our water and our community, we would not have had to spend nearly $2 million fighting them.  This is a nearly unfathomable injustice, and I strongly urge the government to consider how they will remedy this, and compensate the people of Shawnigan.

Standing Up, Standing Together, Standing Strong

But there has been a silver lining.  We have come to be a deeply connected, caring, and united community, and we have learned how to work together.  And for this I am truly grateful.

We have been steadfast for years, our determination never wavering – even in some of the toughest moments.  And we have helped each other through these incredibly challenging years by being kind, caring, and compassionate.  And we never gave up hope that we would succeed – because we knew all along that we were on the side of truth.

Thank you to all who have helped in all aspects this effort.  So much has gone into it over the last four and a half years: the fundraisers, the petition with 15,000 signatures, the early morning protests, the endless meetings, the daily monitoring of the site, the tweets, the posts, helicopter day, the support of the local schools, the photos, the drone shots, the demonstrations, the rallies at the legislature, the support from our MLAs and MPs, the letters, the articles, the endless research, the song-writing, the video-making, the coffee and cookie deliveries, and them many, many hugs when we really needed them. Most of all the commitment to work together as a community – we have shown what can be accomplished when we decide to stand together. It has been an epic effort by the Shawnigan community, and we should all be proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

I’ve never doubted for a moment that we would win this fight.  And now, we’re nearly there.

Stay strong, Shawnigan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Reflections on a Busy Week

Some weeks, my calendar tells a story in a snapshot.  This has been one of those weeks.

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The week began with two very different approaches to bringing about change.  I spent much of Monday at the Forest Hydrology Workshop, which was put on by the Cowichan Watershed Board.  We heard from experts on climate, hydrology, and forestry practices, and engaged in an abundance of solution-oriented discussion around how to ensure a balance between forestry and long-term protection of watersheds.

From there, I went to Victoria to attend a vigil against the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion.  Hundreds of citizens came together to peacefully convey the message that the conditions we face in the world today necessitate a transition away from fossil fuels, and that the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline is a step in the wrong direction. Expanding Kinder Morgan not only poses a serious risk to the coast and the coastal wildlife populations, it contributes to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we need to be investing in renewable energy alternatives and dramatically reducing our fossil fuel emissions.

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While it is daunting to realize that we are facing extraordinary challenges, I am filled with hope and optimism to see the willingness of so many people to tackle these issues in a variety of ways, whether through informing ourselves of the most recent science on watersheds or sending a message to our government – what’s clear is that people are invested in having a say in the future of our province and our planet.

On Tuesday, Blaise attended the climate change discussion at CVRD while I prepared for an interview with Global TV about the recent changes the Ministry of Environment has made to the Contaminated Sites Regulations – changes that have included some decreases in allowable levels of contaminants, but also some extraordinary increases in other levels.  These changes have raised concerns not only among local governments, particularly in rural areas, but also among scientists and environmental advocates.

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Photo by Laura Colpitts

While my interview didn’t make it to the 2-minute news clip, I was most pleased that our local scientist Bernhard Juurlink was a part of the piece.  Bernie has broken down some of the increases that have been brought in with the new regulations.

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I have called on the Ministry of Environment to provide independent, peer-reviewed science that justifies these increases in allowable levels.  At a time when we know that toxins have infiltrated our ecosystems and are showing up in our bodies, it seems hard to understand why a government would want to raise levels of contaminants, and it begs the question of whether or not we are seeing a similar situation to the one in the US where industry lobbying has resulted in increased allowable limits of chromium-6. A recent report from Environmental Working Group revealed that over 200 million Americans have unsafe levels of chromium-6 in their drinking water.

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Ultimately, we need government to recognize that it has a duty to ensure the long-term protection of the citizens of BC and the ecosystems that we rely on for our survival.

Wednesday was a series of back-to-back meetings at the CVRD – ranging from conversations with MoTI about plans for Shawnigan’s roads in 2017 to meeting with stakeholders to discuss the potential of tourist accommodation in Shawnigan (I will share more on this possibility in the coming weeks), to learning about the next proposed steps for a South Sector Liquid Waste Management Plan.  We also had three CVRD meetings – Special Board meeting, Regional Engineering Services, and Regional Services – during which we discussed matters that included invasive species, solid waste disposal, economic development, airshed protection, and the Trans-Canada Trail.

Thursday and Friday were set aside for CVRD budget meetings.  We’re back in budget season at CVRD (the year’s second – the first budget season is in late summer), which means that the Directors need to approve each one of the budgets for CVRD’s 176 service functions.  Some of these functions are relatively straightforward, while others – solid waste, for example – are large and complex budgets that encompass a variety of activities.

It is one of the most challenging parts of the job, to try to find a balance between the vision of the Board, the recommendations of the staff, the desires of our communities, and the very real need to ensure that citizens are not subject to overly burdensome tax increases.  One of the factors exacerbating this challenge is the ‘downloading’ from higher levels of government.  Tax cuts at provincial and federal levels can often translate to local governments being put into a position of trying to fill in the gaps created when cuts are made to services that impact the lives of people in our communities.  Local governments are also increasingly bearing the economic brunt of climate change.  In the Cowichan, we’re having to deal with flooding as well as drought, and we’re also taking very seriously the need to assess our water supplies and the potential threats they face.  In Vancouver, the city is planning a long-term strategy for mitigating impacts from climate change, and recognizing that the costs will be significant – one recent news story outlines some of these challenges.

We have four full days set aside for budget discussions, and we have agreed to add another to review the overall impact and look for ways to try to reduce the requisition while ensuring that we are maintaining important services.

Thursday and Friday evenings brought opportunities to embrace the festive season.  We attended the very rainy Ladysmith Light Up on Thursday evening, and then the much less damp festivities in Duncan on Friday evening.  Both events were incredibly well attended and very enjoyable.

I am very much looking forward to the Shawnigan Village light up on Sunday December 4th from 3:30 – 6:30.

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In amongst all the meetings and festivities last week, there were dozens of phone calls dealing with everything from the Elsie Miles revitalization to Ministry of Transportation plans and issues.  There are also hundreds of emails, many of which need follow-up; everything from ongoing concerns with what is happening at the contaminated landfill to appointing a new commission member.  I also needed to write an article for a local publication, do a live interview on CFAX on Thrusday and a recorded interview with Juice FM on Friday about the changes to Contaminated Sites Regulations, making the case that the province needs to create a proper plan for the contaminated soil that protects the water and soil of all communities, rather than creating unnecessary risks, particularly in rural areas.

On Saturday, it was lovely to attend the Shawnigan Lake Craft Fair and to see the incredible array of local businesses offering extraordinary and exceptional items.  We are truly an entrepreneurial community, and I am always amazed at the talent and innovation we have right here in our own neighbourhood.

 

So what are my reflections at the end of this busy week?

I am grateful to have the support of my husband, and I am also grateful for my Alternate Director Sierra Acton, who helps out in many ways and took on the task of organizing the annual CVRD Volunteer Appreciation Dinner.  I am also incredibly grateful for the support and kindness of so many in the community who help out in many, many ways (particularly the good fairy of coffee, who keeps me appropriately caffeinated, and the many good food fairies who are helping enormously).  My friends keep me laughing and feeling cared for, and my kids bring me joy.

With the many busy days in a row, I found myself truly enjoying and being present for quiet moments with family, hearing about the kids’ days at school or enjoying a meal together.  And while it can at times seems like there are a lot of balls in the air – and a lot of items on my to-do list – I feel fortunate and grateful to be doing work that serves the community and provides me with a true sense of purpose.

What about the groundwater?

Yesterday my eyes were opened to a whole new dimension of the implications of a contaminated landfill in our watershed.

From the beginning, there have been conflicting opinions of the experts who have weighed in on the geology and hydro-geology in and around the quarry that now serves as a contaminated landfill.  Important (and thus far unanswered) questions remain around potential impacts to ground water, and the flows of underground water in and around this area.  The surface water from this landfill site flows toward Shawnigan Lake, but there has not been adequate mapping of the aquifers in this area to determine the level of underground connectivity between the Shawnigan watershed and the adjacent Sooke watershed, which is the water supply for Greater Victoria.

The proponents’ Technical Assessment Report, produced by Active Earth Engineering, claimed that there was 250 feet of “low permeability bedrock” beneath the site.  However, this finding was disputed by Denis Lowen, who stated that he believed “that there is highly fractured soluble limestone prevalent at the Site. The issue with limestone is that it can be more porous and permeable than other types of rock and, therefore, act as a contaminant conduit into aquifers and drinking water sources.”

Geologist Colin Frostad also disputed Active Earth’s claims, and informed the EAB panel that he was “also concerned about the possibility of fluid flow through the fractured bedrock, and critical of Active Earth’s assumption that there is a 75 metre layer of impermeable upper bedrock beneath the Site.”  (See EAB decision, sections 211 & 212.)

Charly Caproff, a recent graduate from Simon Fraser’s Environmental Resource Management program, has taken an interest in this issue, and she is keen to investigate further the presences of limestone and karst caves in this area.  Karst caves are formed by the dissolution of soluble minerals like limestone, and they can form part of underground aquifers that are of high importance for groundwater.  (See more about karst here and here.)

Charly recently posted to her facebook page comments submitted by Doug Makaroff to the Minstry of Environment during the “public consultation period” after the draft permit was issued in 2013.

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Charly included some maps showing limestone deposits in the area.

All of this brings us to yesterday, when Charly and her friend Reid Robinson (known in the Alberni Valley as “Karst Man”) joined a group of intrepid Shawnigan residents willing to brave heavy rains as we searched for limestone and karst.

We started as we often do at Stebbings Rd, where we paid a quick visit to a busy and very wet landfill site.  This liners, held in place by rebar stakes and rubber tires, remain in place, however the “impermeability” remains questionable, given the number of holes there are in them.

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We proceeded first westward, walking toward the nearby limestone quarry.  No surprise to find lots of limestone on our short hike.

But it was our next destination that was extraordinary.  South of the landfill and just over the dividing line between CRD and CVRD, we found a karst cave.  Intrepid Charly scouted it out for us, and then we joined her in the beautiful underground world – which had plenty of water flowing through it.

Once inside we were awestruck by the beauty and mystery of the world we’d entered. (I learned from Charly that the giant bug is a cave cricket – crucial to the health of the cave ecosystem.)

We emerged with a renewed sense of determination, inspired by Charly’s and Reid’s enthusiasm and knowledge.

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Evidence is mounting that the operators of the contaminated landfill are struggling to manage surface water at the site, as seen from events over the last few weeks.  (See Ministry of Environment’s October 12th Inspection Report, Pollution Prevention Order, and ongoing monitoring posted on their “South Island Aggregates – Cobble Hill Holdings” website.)

But the Ministry has not taken seriously the ongoing concerns about the presence of groundwater at the quarry site, and the implications of contaminants entering aquifers in and around this site.  (See Why are we doing this? and What will it take?)

For years, we have documented the “perpetual pond” at the bottom of the SIA quarry – a pool of water that never disappears, even in the longest and hottest of drought periods.

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However, in a strange turn of events, Ministry of Environment (MoE) staff are suggesting that there is groundwater at this site, but not where we would expect them to say it is. When concerns were raised by citizens about dampness appearing underneath the liner that sits beneath the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of contaminated soil, MoE staff stated in an August 2016 compliance report that the moisture was not from water leaking out of the contaminated soil but from groundwater seeping up from beneath the quarry.

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Have Ministry staff considered the implications of the presence of groundwater directly below the area where contaminated soil is slated to be left forever?

So where does this leave us?

  • A contaminated landfill site, uphill from both Shawnigan and Sooke Lake, has ongoing issues with contact water flowing off the site in surface water.
  • Ministry of Environment staff who at first believe the proponents when they say there is no groundwater at this site, now believe the operators when they tell them that there is groundwater at the site.
  • The presence of significant seams of limestone in the area – a mineral that is highly soluble and through which water can move underground
  • The presence of karst caves, which are indicative of underground flows of water

Adequate mapping of aquifers in the area between the Shawnigan and Sooke watershed basins has not been done, but I would suggest that it is becoming increasingly imperative that we develop a thorough understanding of the movement of groundwater in this area.

As we have said for years, this location is wholly unsuitable for a contaminated landfill facility.  Thus far, evidence just keeps piling up to support our position.

At what point will the Ministry of Environment begin making evidence-based decisions about this facility?

When will they make the  long-term safety of drinking water a priority?

When will they begin to consider all of the evidence and information that has been presented to them, rather than consistently agree with the findings of the “qualified professionals” who are paid by the landfill operators?

Enough is enough.

More rain, more concerns

It was the first heavy rainfall of the season – the kind of rain that roused us in the night with its persistent pounding on our roofs and windows.

It was the kind of rain that forced us to think of the 200,000 tonnes of contaminated soil sitting high up in our watershed.

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For weeks we’ve worried that the water collection system would not be able to deal with heavy rain pouring off the slope of the giant pile of contaminated soil.

 

Let’s go back to the Environmental Appeal Board’s decision to uphold the permit issued to Cobble Hill Holdings.  Here are a few statements from the EAB’s 120-page decision about the “multiple layers of protection” that the highly engineered site would provide:

 

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So how did the “multiple barriers” and “multiple layers of protection” fare in the rain today?

You decide.

 

 

 

Today’s rain was heavy, but in no way extreme.  And certainly not the 1-200 year rain event that this site was supposed to be able to handle, according to the EAB decision:

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To their credit, MoE sent out a Conservation Officer to assess what was happening.  By the time he arrived, however, the operators had brought in a vacuum truck – so he did not witness the trenches filled with water or the flow of contact water being stemmed with hay bales.  (Strange – there was no mention of hay bales or vacuum trucks during the EAB hearings or in the EAB decision.)

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The permit was upheld by the EAB in March 2015, and concerns of the citizens of Shawnigan Lake have mounted steadily ever since.  Over the last 11 months, MoE has issued nine public letters to CHH.  Minister Polak frames this as evidence that the Ministry staff are “doing their job” by “monitoring” the site.

I would argue that the ongoing issues at this site are evidence of what we have said from the very beginning: that this permit should never have been issued.  As one expert witness said during the EAB hearings, “this is crazy”.

And almost all of the actual monitoring at the site is done by committed community members who have refused to give up on protecting our watershed.

There is only one acceptable outcome to this story.  This permit must be revoked, and the soils that have been landfilled at this site must be removed.

 

 

Where are we at?

There has been a lot of discussion of the ruling that came down on April 15th from Justice Kirkpatrick, and it seems to have created confusion.  Did we win?  Did we lose?
 
The ruling allows SIRM to complete the contracts that were in place as of March 21, 2016. According to the documents submitted to the court, the volume of soil in those contracts is 106,000 tonnes. The company intends to resume hauling soil, and they have been actively working at the site and returning equipment.
Contracts allowed under the stay
 
How, exactly, could that be construed as a win?
 
Yes – it is only a partial stay of the injunction – but a stay that allows them to essentially double the volume of contaminated soil at the site.
 
Yes, the injunctions from Justice MacKenzie remain in place after the contracts from the stay have been fulfilled – but the company has permission from Justice Kirkpatrick to import soil until the contracts are complete or until the appeal is heard in August. That means four more months of truckloads of contaminated soil being dumped in our watershed.
 
For all of us in Shawnigan, every truckload of soil brought to that site is the opposite of a victory.
soil mountain
 
As I said many times after the MacKenzie decision, we have many more victories that we will need before this fight is over.
 
We await the Sewell decision on the Judicial Review.
 
We await action from the provincial government, which has ignored our community for four years.
 
We await the appeal hearing of the zoning decision in August.
 
The truth is that we are plunged back into uncertainty as a community, and that we face the grim reality of trucks continuing to haul – for now – contaminated soil to Stebbings Rd.
 
And we we continue to work hard, as a community. The teams we formed in December have continued to work together. We continue to support each other and take care of each other. We continue to act with kindness, generosity, and compassion towards each other.
 
And these are the most important things that we can do. We have won respect and admiration as a community for the ways in which we have chosen to pull together and care for each other throughout this horrible ordeal, and we’ve created a strong, loving community. A trusting community. Let us not allow that trust or compassion to be eroded.
 
We are all weary from this fight, but our greatest strength is each other – let’s remember to value what we’ve created in Shawnigan, and fiercely protect it.
 
We have known from the beginning that this will be a long fight, and it will be a hard fight. We are going down all avenues available to us, because we value our water so much that we do not intend to let the outcome hinge on a single court decision.
 
I intend to never give up with my efforts to protect our watershed, and throughout this entire ordeal, I have drawn my strength, my courage, and my determination from this community.