Protests were a regular sight at the now-closed contaminated soil landfill near Shawnigan Lake. (File photo)

Column: Let’s hope we see the end of the professional reliance model

Robert’s column

Talk about hiring the fox to guard the hen house.

In order to save money, streamline regulatory processes or just so some fat cats with friends in high places could make even more money, the old Liberal government had relied on what is called the “professional reliance model” to have proposed projects in B.C. environmentally assessed.

What that means is that, in many cases, the same engineers and other professionals that companies rely on to do the technical work on their projects were also being called upon to provide the mandatory environmental assessments of the work being done.

Before the professional reliance model was implemented, the government depended on independent in-house experts to conduct environmental assessments to ensure the health and safety of B.C.’s communities.

But when the responsibility for this necessary environmental due diligence was shifted to industry about 10 years ago, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that conflicts of interest began to emerge.

One has to wonder who made the decision to abandon the old, but time tested and reliable, independent model for these environmental assessments in favour of having people and companies who have a vested interest in the projects proceeding making the call as to how environmentally friendly they are.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this was a recipe for disaster for communities across B.C. who have projects proposed in their area that could have severe impacts on their drinking water, air quality or other aspects of their environment.

A case is point is the fact that the controversial contaminated soil landfill near Shawnigan Lake was allowed to proceed based on reports provided by an engineering firm hired by the proponents that indicated that the landfill could operate safely without having any negative impacts on the environment and local potable water supplies.

But numerous issues arose at the landfill in its lifetime that saw water from the site leaching into nearby streams, which forms part of the area’s drinking water, before the Ministry of Environment pulled the landfill’s operating permit, which the ministry claimed was due to repeated failure by the company to meet deadlines and comply with permit requirements.

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Since then, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC completed a report stating that the environmental engineering firm, Active Earth Engineering, that signed off on the landfill project wasn’t in a conflict of interest when it provided its report and recommendations.

That’s despite the fact that, it was only later revealed, Active Earth Engineering had had a potential ownership interest in the project.

Once again. it’s only common sense that any company or individual that has a financial stake in a project will lean towards moving it forward.

That means these professionals would be faced with sometimes insurmountable pressures to put lipstick on the pig and present projects in the best light possible, despite the implications of any environmental issues that may arise.

To the credit of the new NDP government, it has recently announced it will review the professional reliance model and that brings hope some form of independent professionalism can be brought to bear again on assessing projects that could impact the environment.

Sonia Furstenau, the Green MLA for Cowichan Valley who fought hard to have the contaminated soil land fill closed, told me she welcomed the government’s review and hoped it will lead to policy changes that will prevent other communities from having to face what Shawnigan Lake went through.

Time will tell just how successful the province’s newly elected NDP government will be.

But if it can fix this one problem, they will have already accomplished something for the good of the people, regardless of what else they do in their time in office.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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