Resident-commissioned report adds fuel to soil dump proposal

Hydrologist Dennis Lowen explains aquifer impacts of South lsland Aggregate
Hydrologist Dennis Lowen explains aquifer impacts of South lsland Aggregate's plans for a contaminated-soil facility near Shawnigan Lake during Thursday's public meeting at Shawnigan Lake School.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Just say 'No."

That's what Shawnigan Lake residents are urging environment ministry bureaucrat Hubert Bunce to do early next year when he's expected to decide if a massive quarry can be filled with contaminated soil from various places.

Citizens' worries about soil runoff polluting their lake and aquifers surfaced during Thursday's meeting about South Island Aggregates Ltd.'s proposed project, which needs a ministry permit.

Dozens of folks heard the findings of a report by hydrogeologist Dennis Lowen who was hired by the Shawnigan Residents' Association.

"It scares me to have the developer (SIA) putting a toilet in our living room," said SRA's Al Brunet, noting Lowen's study was to be unbiased about the Stebbings Road site.

Lowen described how SIA's proposed site, about five kilometres from Shawnigan Lake, would sit on fractured bedrock.

He reports that geology could eventually see soil foulants — possibly hydrocarbons such as fuel, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals — leak from SIA's proposed encapsulation system, percolate into the aquifer, then reach the lake.

"The site doesn't have the natural features to contain the soil and its (potential) leachate," Lowen said.

Lowen recommended more study about SIA property and its fallout, adding drinking-water standards don't apply to the site risk.

Possible earthquakes could also shake SIA site's holding capabilities, noted Lowen. And reports by the forests ministry, and the Vancouver Island Health Authority, also nix the site, he noted.

"You'd use this site if it was the only one you had."

But residents, and area Director Bruce Fraser, don't want the site used at all for bad dirt.

"You have clearly described a dire problem here," said Bill Hook.

"Nobody wants to see any water supplies basically destroyed," said Craig Mearns, who recently expressed his concerns to B.C.'s Environment Minister Terry Lake.

But the soil dumping and storing permit decision isn't Lake's, it's Bunce's, Fraser explained.

Fraser said a legislative change is needed to give regional brass power against accepting contaminated soil.

"If they had the right over jurisdiction, they'd be saying 'No' quite often," Fraser said, adding the CVRD has offered to help find a suitable soil site.

Meanwhile, Cliff Ellis urged locals to request the province, or another approving body, have SIA pay to have local water tested now to provide a baseline of contaminants.

Should the application be approved, the SRA and others could appeal within 30 days to the Environmental Appeal Board, Fraser said.

That appeal could effectively stall the site's use for a long time, while folks realized Lowen's report raises serious site doubts.

SRA's Garry Horwood said the group is mulling Lowen's report, while telling folks there's strength in numbers.

"We're following due process. It isn't sexy," he said. "We've ignited a ministry, and we're on track."


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