Earlier this month I wrote a piece on the wisdom of dumping contaminated soils in the Shawnigan Lake watershed. I visited the region with Shawnigan Lake Area Director Sonia Furstenau. Together with a few other Shawnigan Lake residents, we hiked around on parkland owned by the Cowichan Valley Regional District. I took this opportunity to take a number of photographs. More importantly, I took the opportunity to collect water samples.
The results of these water samples, together with my observation that a significant amount of fill had over run Lot 21 and was on the neighbouring parkland, led me to ask the Minister of Energy and Mines and the Minister of Environment questions in Question Period today.
Below are the questions and the Ministers’ responses. I gave the Ministers my questions in advance as I wanted to give them time to check with staff prior to providing answers. The answers I received in my view are very helpful in providing information to the CVRD as to how they might proceed.
A. Weaver: I have in my possession two letters [here and here] sent from the Ministry of Energy and Mines to South Island Aggregates in Shawnigan Lake concerning “sloughing or material that encroached onto Cowichan Valley regional district property.”
The April 1, 2014 letter from the ministry’s regional manager for the coast area states that “the property impacted by the encroachment must be cleaned up and returned to its pre-encroachment state to the satisfaction of the property owner.”
The story continues. I also have a letter from the CVRD clearly outlining the fact that the property impacted has yet to be cleaned up, let alone to the CVRD’s satisfaction. South Island Aggregates needs an amendment to its mines permit before its Ministry of Environment permit can become active.
Will the Minister of Energy and Mines commit to ensuring that before an amended permit is issued, the infractions and issues of non-compliance at this site have been addressed?
Hon. B. Bennett: It’s actually refreshing to get a question where the member has a good grasp of the facts. I don’t think that this quarry is in the member’s riding so, honestly, he deserves a lot of credit for having done the due diligence that whoever the MLA is for that area hasn’t done.
To the member’s question, he is correct that there was a commitment made by the Ministry of Energy and Mines that we would ensure that the company that had encroached on regional district land would, in fact, remediate that land. An engineering plan has gone to the regional district, about eight weeks ago.
I don’t know why we haven’t heard back from the regional district, but I will commit to work with the member, work with our ministry, work with the regional district and make sure that they know they have that plan. They can take some time to look at that plan, and that RD land will be remediated.
A. Weaver: Thank you to the minister for the answer.
For several years soil has been dumped in lot 21 for later use as backfill for the neighbouring quarry in lot 23, which we just discussed, where the amended permit is required. I recently visited the location. I collected and subsequently analyzed water samples and noted that runoff from this site entering Shawnigan Creek had extremely high iron levels that failed drinking water standards locally.
The Cowichan Valley regional district is very concerned about the long-term safety of drinking water in the Shawnigan Lake area. They want to conduct an independent environmental investigation of lots 21 and 23 and are willing to pay the costs of doing so themselves. There will be no expense to the government.
My question to the Minister of Environment is this. Does the CVRD require a contractual agreement with the ministry to allow them to conduct such an investigation? If so, will the ministry consider entering into such an agreement? If not, is it the minister’s understanding that the CVRD have full authority to conduct such an independent environmental investigation on lots 21 and 23?
Hon. M. Polak: Thank you to the member for providing some details ahead of time. That enabled me to pursue and seek some advice with respect to jurisdictional issues around environmental testing.
Here’s what I can tell the member. With respect to lot 21, it is private property. Now, that means for the Ministry of Environment that we have full authority to be able to enter that property, conduct testing, investigate if there are concerns with respect to pollution. We intend to do so. We have done so, and I will talk a little bit more about that in a moment.
There is, however, though, no authority — the minister possesses no authority — to be able to allow another party, even through a contractual arrangement, to engage in that kind of investigation on private land. Here’s what we can do, though. Staff, after meeting with representatives from CVRD have developed a sampling plan for the site. I understand they will be discussing that with CVRD today.
We cannot order the private property owner to allow CVRD members to attend and observe. However, we will be discussing that with them, and we’re hopeful that on a voluntarily basis the landowner will allow us to bring along CVRD representatives to observe the testing. In the absence of that we will certainly make sure that all test results, all test processes are discussed and shared with the CVRD.