Originally published in the South Cowichan Echo
A soil treatment facility in Shawnigan Lake is now complying with pollution- containment conditions of its provincial permit following last week’s remedial orders from the environment ministry, ministry staff confirms.
Staff supported an Oct.18 statement to CBC News by minister Mary Polak that she was satisfied the soil-treatment operation is complying with its pollution prevention order.
Those orders to pit owners Cobble Hill Holdings and South Island Aggregates came after between 3,000 and 6,000 gallons of untreated contact water spilled Oct. 8 out of its Stebbings Road operation and into the surrounding environment.
Based on that spill and earlier non-compliance — and with the weekend’s storm looming — ministry staff believed more untreated contact water could leave the site and pollute the area.
That’s why staff ordered the Cobble Hill Holdings to ensure, by Oct. 12, it follow its permit regarding covering the landfill against the weather, build or maintain collection ditching, and ensure contingency measures to guard against a spill.
Polak told CBC her staff watched the site during the weekend and observed no more problems. It was unknown if the firm will be charged for the spill.
On Oct. 17 ministry staff said the permittee (Cobble Hill Holdings) “reports today the actions required by the order are still being complied with and there are no significant changes in the status at the site.”
“The ministry continues to share all data with Island Health so they can assess potential impacts to human health for downstream water users.”
Ministry staff continues monitoring the situation “and if necessary will take further action.”
Concerns about the pit operation are explained in an Oct. 12 letter to the firm from the ministry’s A.J. Downie says Rahim Gaidhar, an SIA resource manager, reported a spill of untreated contact water onto the site property.
That day, conservation officer Scott Norris attended and confirmed Gaidhar’s report of the spill, and that heavy rains resulted in erosion of a sand layer on top of the pit’s landfill.
That eroded sand obstructed contact-water collation ditches and about 3,000 to 6,000 gallons of untreated contact water spilled out, mixed with non-contact water, flowed into the settling pond then headed into the environment nearby, Downie explains.
The ministry found the company was in non-compliance with permit 105809 due to the discharge of untreated contact water into the settling pond.
Furthermore, Downie explains contaminated soil remains on site in the landfill without a final cover and with sand on the landfill’s surface.
Failure to comply with those orders could mean fines up to $300,000 or six months jail time.
And failure to comply could also spell an administrative penalty of up to $40,000, Downie says.
That’s cold comfort to Shawnigan Lake Director Sonia Fursteanau.
“The point is now you have evidence of compounding failures” at the pit.
“Last year it was a breach of non-contact water, now it’s contact water.
“We said from the beginning this site is wholly unsuitable for this activity and had the ministry listened to the (hydrology) experts and the community, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now.”
The pit’s permit, allowing treatment of five million tonnes of contaminated soil over 50 years, is also opposed by the Shawnigan Residents’ Association and the Cowichan Valley Regional District.
Court rulings are still pending in their legal cases against the permit.
SRA, the CVRD and Furstenau simply want the pit’s permit pulled by B.C.’s Liberal government.
“The longer-term story here is in 19 months of operation this company has had ongoing, perpetual non-compliance issues with its permit.
“I want them to pull the permit — it’s the right thing to do,” she said.