A legal, toxic soil-treatment permit for a quarry facility near Shawnigan Lake can’t be pulled by B.C.’s environment ministry without evidence of ecological harm, the minister says.Mary Polak made the statement while headed into a private meeting Feb. 12 with Cowichan Valley Regional District directors and staff.“I don’t have the authority to do that (permit pull) without evidence,” she told The Echo.That huddle heard Polak and her staff pitch a one-year environmental-monitoring program — by an independent, qualified professional — of water leaving private Lots 23 and 21 containing hazardous material.
Monitoring parties would include the ministries of environment and mines, the CVRD, Shawnigan Residents’ Association, federal Fisheries and/or Environment Canada, Malahat First Nation, Cowichan Tribes, Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd., and perhaps others.Polak dodged the press and citizens. She and her staff later left the CVRD building via its back door.But because it was Polak’s requested meeting, not a CVRD one, directors were allowed to talk about what was said behind those closed doors, CAO Brian Carruthers explained.
Polak was grilled by various CVRD directors, some opposing the legal 50-year dumping permit granted in 2013 to pit owners South Island Aggregates and Cobble Hill Holdings, Director Sharon Jackson said.That permit allows five-million tonnes of dirty dirt, from various B.C. sites, to be dumped into its massive quarry off Stebbings Road, then examined by the company and Victoria for toxic content and run-off.
However, Polak claimed she couldn’t stop the dumping during her monitoring plan proposed to the CVRD, Jackson said.“I asked her ‘If, after the first month, you discover (toxic material such as) arsenic or heavy metals leaking from the pit, will you pull the permit?’ She said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’”NDP leader John Horgan recently demanded in the House that Polak pull the permit now.“Why allow tonnes of contaminated soil to be dumped before (Polak) knows what the consequences will be?” Horgan stormed.
Polak was also told by CVRD directors that Cowichanians don’t want the pit, or the permit. Their opposition appeared a 15,000-name petition handed to Polak in the legislature last year.“She indicated she wouldn’t pull the permit, to show it’s not a political decision,” explained Jackson, noting the CVRD board has not decided about Polak’s proposal.Jackson noted Ladysmith Director Aaron Stone insisted the ministry pay for the monitoring plan.
“Because her ministry issued the permit, we shouldn’t have to bear the costs of her decision,” Jackson said.She was peeved Polak’s ministry will not recognize professional data about alleged toxic run-off, already gathered from the pit.“She refuses to accept the evidence to date, and says ‘So there’s no political interference, let’s get an independent professional to prove something’s being done’ — while the trucks are rolling.”A stay on dumping is also being sought in Victoria’s B.C. Supreme Court where Shawnigan Residents’ Association lawyers are seeking a judicial review of SIA-CHH’s permit, approved by ministry bureaucrat Hubert Bunce.
Bunce basically chose SIA-CHH’s hyrdogeology science over SRA’s science. He also received some 300 opposition letters from residents.“The statutory decision maker didn’t even go to the site,” Cowichan MLA Bill Routley told Polak in the legislature, miffed folks are raising money to fight their own government.“There is an appropriate process we will follow,” Polak told Routley and Horgan.
The permit was upheld during 2014 Environmental Appeal Board hearings.The legal triangle includes the CVRD awaiting the high-court’s ruling about if Victoria ignored CVRD zoning bylaws banning soil treatment in the forestry-zoned quarry.Shawnigan Residents Association (SRA) president Calvin Cook confirmed Polak has not met with his members, nor answered letters about pit-pollution worries from the SRA, Cowichan Tribes and Malahat First Nation.“We’re paying for our lawyers ($700,000 so far), and the government’s lawyers are arguing against us, in favour of a private corporation.”
He saw Polak’s monitoring plan as greenwash.“She wants to be able to say she’s been in consultation with stakeholders, and we vehemently disagree.“Just put a stay in place to prevent further contaminants coming in (to the pit) until the judicial review’s done, and we receive a ruling from Justice Sewell.”Lawyers with the ministry, SRA and SIA were in court between Feb. 15 and 29 debating that requested judicial review.Judge Robert J. Sewell has received documents alleging private deals between SIA’s engineering firm Active Earth, and with the Malahat band’s former chief Michael Harry, who resigned. Those documents weren’t handed to the EAB.“Evidence was withheld from the public,” Routley fumed to Polak.SRA lawyers cited case law showing that new evidence should be admitted by Sewell on grounds those documents may indicate fraud, ending with the permit being granted, Cook explained.“Justice Sewell can send the evidence back to the EAB to have it consider that new evidence, let the permit stand, or he can quash the permit,” he said.The SRA has accused the EAB of judicial unfairness, “that’s why we have concerns of this case (and new evidence) being presented back to the EAB,” said Cook.
“Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
– George Orwell, Politics and the English Language, 1946