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Ministry abdicates its responsibility to Shawnigan Lake residents

On December 2 I sent a letter to the Minister of Environment. In the letter I expressed my concerns regarding the ongoing activities at the site in the Shawnigan Lake watershed where contaminated soils are being delivered. My letter was initiated in response to the release of two Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) reports.

As noted in the Thurber Engineering Ltd report, “The presence of the large volume of water emerging from under the rock armour at the head of the ephemeral stream indicates that runoff storm water sourced from the SIA site is bypassing the sediment pond (i.e by flowing under it) and is being discharged directly onto the land owned by the CVRD”.

Below I  provide photographs of the sediment pond [panel a], as well as a large pond beside the sediment pond [panel b]. The report suggests that much of the water bypasses the sediment pond and leaves via an ephemeral stream [panel c].

a) DSC07017   b) DSC07014

c) DSC07080

I have yet to receive a response to my letter but I note that the Ministry responded directly to the CVRD’s letter sent on the same day as mine. The ministry has also detailed their timeline of compliance and monitoring.

In the Ministry’s response to CVRD they state:

“The [Thurber] report recommends additional review of water management infrastructure and procedures and your letter has requested a more detailed assessment. As mentioned above, this will be done and the Ministry will forward the Thurber report to the permittee and their qualified professional(s) for consideration in that review.”
In my view this underscores yet another example of the Ministry abdicating its responsibility to protect the residents around Shawnigan Lake and enforce its own compliance regulations. We have a  serious situation where contaminated soils are being delivered to the site on an ongoing basis. Yet at the same time very troubling questions have been raised by an independent engineering firm about the functioning of the water containment system. In my view the only logical course of action for the Ministry is as outlined in my letter. I am beyond astounded that the Ministry would allow contaminated soils to be delivered while the ‘permittee and their qualified professional(s)’ review the situation. Read on.

The Letter


The Honourable Mary Polak
Minister of Environment
Room 112
Parliament Buildings
Victoria B.C.

December 2nd 2015

Dear Minister Polak,

On December 1st 2015 the Cowichan Valley Regional District released an engineering report, commissioned by the district, evaluating unauthorized water discharge from the contaminated soil treatment site managed by Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. near Shawnigan Lake. The Thurber Engineering report titled ‘Storm Water Management Observations, South Island Aggregate’ is clear and blunt in its assessment:

“The presence of the large volume of water emerging from under the rock armour at the head of the ephemeral stream indicates that runoff storm water sourced from the SIA site is bypassing the sediment pond (i.e by flowing under it) and is being discharged directly onto the land owned by the CVRD”

The report also concluded the sediment pond meant to hold water runoff from the site is ‘relatively porous’ and therefore completely inadequate as a containment system.

In addition, on November 18th 2015, Jennifer McGuire, Executive Director of the Ministry of Environment Regional Operations Branch, issued a formal warning letter to Cobble Hill Holdings regarding permit PR-105809 raising concerns regarding the ability of the operator to ensure effective operation of the site and to manage unauthorized discharges in accordance with the license.

These are only the most recent developments following months of gathered evidence and serious concerns on water quality raised by the residents and property owners around Shawnigan Lake, the CVRD, Island Health, Cowichan Tribes, myself and others.

In light of this I am asking you use your authority and prerogative as Minister of Environment to:

1: Immediately suspend permit PR-105809 and order the operator to cease operations.

2: Commission an independent engineering firm to evaluate water source, flow and containment, bedrock analysis and operating and emergency procedures to determine if the site can be remediated to comply with the permit.

I am available to discuss this at your convenience and look forward to your immediate attention.

Sincerely

Andrew Weaver
MLA – Oak Bay – Gordon Head

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Ben Funk-
    January 3, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    mary.polak.mla@leg.bc.ca

    Help her do the right thing.

  2. Sylvia Gray-
    December 16, 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Today in court the lawyer for SIA/CHH asked to add more names to the injunction list and would be seeking damages of $400,000 dollars from these desperate individuals, terrified by the toxins streaming off these properties and into our drinking water…and the judge allowed it…so now the legal system chooses to side with the polluters? I have no words to express how heart shattering this entire situation has been for myself and others in my community!?

    Your support throughout has been phenomenal and so very much appreciated! It is 9 days before Christmas, and 2 weeks since your letter to the MOE! Still no justice or respect for our community, regardless of ALL THE DOCUMENTED EVIDENCE!?…yours and ours!?

    No decision on the stay requested on Nov. 4…No decision on the CVRD Zoning challenge concluded 2 weeks ago…and by the time a decision on the Judicial Review, requested in May..finally being heard or decided Jan. 11. (however that’s done) the damage to our watershed will likely be irreparable!? It ALL MAKES ME SICK! No wonder we are throwing our bodies in front of these trucks…they’ve left us NO OTHER OPTION FOR BEING HEARD!

  3. Rick Sanders-
    December 13, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    As a member of legislature and an elected official I take solace in the fact that at least you have expressed concern about this situation which borders on insanity. It is truly unfortunate that the Environment Minister whose job it is to protect the safety of BC citizens could care less. Thank You for you support.

  4. Jeff Johnson-
    December 12, 2015 at 8:15 am

    I would say that the people should put a class action law suit against all parties involved.

  5. Sylvia Gray-
    December 11, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Do we live a democracy or not?! Today when I phoned RAPP about heightened concern over the orange brown ooze that’s coming from SIA’s Lot 21, I wasn’t allowed to make a complaint because I had only seen a video and not personally seen it!? It didn’t matter that a group of us have been monitoring it, those who have actually witnessed it need to call. 1-800-663-3456. I also mentioned this was the same area of concern Andrew Weaver has been reporting. Despite claiming to live in Victoria, the arrogant individual, who is basically a human answering machine for MOE, asked me who Andrew Weaver was!?!? Are they kidding me?! Even my husband who got on the phone then and told them he was part of a CVRD water quality testing group 2 years ago when it was noted, and as part of the Salmon Conservation group they are very concerned by the increase in contamination, which is alarming! The guy said well that was two years ago, and he can’t make a claim now based on someone else’s video!? OMG. so I phoned Mary Polaks office directly and was told the MOE is aware of it and has been monitoring the situition?! I said monitoring wasn’t protecting the public and environment from illegal pollution! Silence on that end of the line. Have to admit that I frustratingly ended my call explaining to this woman, that thanks to the MOE’s position in all of this, the entire staff working for them are being perceived by the public as MORONS! And a waste of taxpayers money! So everyone who has physically SEEN/video taped it, please call RAPP and file a report!! Make sure you get a DGIR # from them and ask for a call back! Maybe, Andrew Weaver, you should call and introduce yourself and file a DGIR REPORT AS WELL!! UNBELIEVABLE!!

  6. Laura M Hampson-
    December 10, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Your letter was concise, respectful and polite. It’s too bad we have to plead for the right to clean drinking water. If this continues we’ll never be able to sell our homes and this is where we’ll have to live in this toxic mess. I will, in 10 years time, be a refugee in my own country. Who’s going to help us when we have nothing? Who’s going to house me, feed me and care for me when I’m too ill to care for myself and too poor to move anywhere else? This was where I planned to live forever. What am I going to do? What are 12,000 of us going to do? Does our government care that we are in crisis mode here? I laid awake listening to the rain at 4:00 AM a few nights ago and cried at the thought of the stream swelling and carrying toxins to my community’s water that much faster. We don’t have much time and this is insanity. Please take this seriously and help!!

  7. Alix-
    December 10, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    12000 people drink this water. Mary, enough damage has been done. Stop ignoring the people and the proof. Revoke this permit immediately.