New bill aims to protect Shawnigan Lake

Member of Parliament Alistair MacGregor is putting federal weight behind stopping contaminated soil dumping at Shawnigan Lake.

Cowichan-Langford-Malahat Member of Parliament Alistair MacGregor (centre) speaks about his private member’s bill that seeks to protect Shawnigan Lake at a press conference March 14, as Shawnigan Lake Area Director Sonia Furstenau (left) and Cowichan Valley Member of the Legislative Assembly of B.C. Bill Routley (right) look on.

Cowichan-Malahat-Langford Member of Parliament Alistair MacGregor is putting federal weight behind stopping contaminated soil dumping at Shawnigan Lake.

In a press conference in Shawnigan Lake on Monday, March 14, MacGregor was joined by Cowichan Valley MLA Bill Routley and Shawnigan Lake area director Sonia Furstenau as he announced his private member’s bill to add Shawnigan Lake to the list of protected water bodies under the Navigation Protection Act.

“Some of you will recall that in 2012 the Harper government removed more than 90 per cent of Canada’s lakes and rivers from under what was then called the Navigable Waters Protection Act, so my bill seeks to put it [Shawnigan Lake] back in,” said MacGregor, who, as an NDP MP introduced the private member’s bill in the House of Commons on March 10.

“This bill is but a very small first step in the larger nationwide battle to protect our water resources… We went to the Navigation Protection Act because under Section 22 it does prohibit any kind of dumping in navigable waterways,” MacGregor said.

He noted this bill is likely a few years away from being discussed for passage but that he’s hopeful about change in Ottawa.

“With the change in government there’s been a new tone set in Ottawa and I think we can find a lot of MPs who start seeing the environment as a higher factor,” he told a gathered crowd of supporters and media at the Shawnigan Watershed office.

Routley, who delivered a petition with 15,000 signatures in the legislature last year, said the water situation in Shawnigan Lake is a travesty.

“It doesn’t make sense. All you have to do is stand on the side of the hill and look and see a contaminated soil dump right above a lake,” he said, adding that the situation is only permitted due to a technicality. “They say ‘no this is not a contaminated soil site, this is a mine and it’s a reclamation’… I don’t even know how they get away using the claim it’s a reclamation. I don’t think if you were reclaiming your car you’d go down to the garbage dump and look for tin cans to fill in the holes.”

Routley said the B.C. government has let Shawnigan Lake down.

“We’ve got a government who doesn’t listen,” he said. “I’ve pressed them more than 25 times now on issues about Shawnigan Lake and continue to ask the questions of really, ‘why?’ How could it possibly make sense to spend millions of dollars fighting with the good people of the Cowichan Valley over a contaminated soil dump?” Routley said.

Paul Hasselback, the chief medical officer on Vancouver Island, maintains that the dumping is extensively monitored to ensure the risk to human health is minimal.

Furstenau expressed hope that bodies of government could work together to solve situations like that in Shawnigan Lake.

“I’m so grateful to have the cooperation of the different levels of government and I’m even more grateful to everybody here in this room today. My voice is only powerful because of all of you standing together,” she said, adding that she’ll be travelling to Ottawa in June to do some more work with MacGregor on moving the file forward.

“Thanks for checking up on ‘em,” joked a woman in the crowd.

Another man asked that MacGregor and Furstenau emphasize that Shawnigan Lake is not anti-business but only opposed to this situation.

MacGregor said he’s spoken with South Island Resource Management and is most concerned with the process whereby soil was authorized to be dumped.

“This press conference is not about singling out any one company, it’s about the process,” MacGregor said. “There are a number of contaminated soil sites around the province. It’s making sure that the way that the decision is reached was actually based on sound science and that we don’t have conflicts of interest.”

MacGregor said although his bill is still years away from consideration he hopes it will generate discussion and momentum for the B.C. government to take action on stopping contaminated soil dumping at Shawnigan.

“What I wanted to do — what I felt compelled to do — was to hold this example up. To use my voice as a federal representative to talk about the fact that local communities don’t really feel listened to in the management of their local water resources,” MacGregor said, adding “I don’t feel that this community is being heard.”

Cowichan Valley Citizen

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