The contaminated soil landfill near Shawnigan Lake that was the centre of protests for years was finally shut down in 2017. (File photo)

Year in Review: Controversial soil landfill finally closed in 2017, but battle not over

But lawsuits still continue

After years of lawsuits and demonstrations over the controversial contaminated soil landfill near Shawnigan Lake, the axe finally fell on the operation in February when its operating permit was pulled by the province.

Former Liberal Environment Minister Mary Polak decided to cancel the permit, ostensibly because the owners had failed to provide the province with required documents by a deadline set out by the government.

The permit had allowed the owners of Cobble Hill Holdings and South Island Aggregates to receive and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year at the site.

Mike Kelly and Marty Block, owners of Cobble Hill Holdings, said at the time that the company was out approximately $20 million by the time the permit was pulled.

The owners claimed the site had only been in full operation for a total of eight months since the operating permit was first issued in 2013 due to legal challenges, so their costs skyrocketed as a result.

They blamed the government and members of the community who fought the landfill since its beginning, and said they would sue in an effort to recover their losses.

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The first lawsuit came in August when Cobble Hill Holdings filed suit in B.C. Supreme Court against the province and Polak, who is still the Liberal MLA for Langley.

The company said it is seeking general damages, special damages, aggravated damages, punitive damages, special costs and any other relief the court “may deem fit to grant.”

No amounts were specified other than “to be assessed.”

In October, the company sued Sonia Furstenau in the B.C. Supreme Court as well.

Furstenau, who is currently the Green MLA for the Cowichan Valley, was the director for Shawnigan Lake on the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s board of directors while the landfill was in operation.

At the time, she was also a community leader in the fight to close the facility, claiming the operation was having negative impacts on the area’s watershed and the environment.

The suit alleges that Furstenau “falsely and maliciously” spoke about the business partners, Kelly and Block, during a rally at the legislature lawns in Victoria around March 15, 2015.

The suit claims that Furstenau’s speech seriously injured the partners’ character, credit and reputation, and caused them damages.

Kelly and Block are seeking general damages, social damages, punitive damages, aggravated damages, removal of the speech from Furstenau’s website, a public apology and special costs.

Both lawsuits are currently ongoing.

The question still remains as to when, if any, plans are to be made to remove the contaminated soil that was dumped at the landfill before the operation was shut down, and who will be responsible for its removal.

As a result of the fight over the landfill, the CVRD is currently in the process of updating its bylaws to deal with the issue of large-scale soil dumping on private lands in the district in ways that it couldn’t before.

Robert Blackmore, the CVRD’s bylaw enforcement manager, said in June that the potential impacts from large-volume soil dumping on private lands are prominent in the Shawnigan Lake area and can include siltation and turbidity in creeks and water courses, riparian area damage, leachate from contaminated soils as well as damage to roads and traffic safety.

He said that to address and mitigate a number of these impacts, the new soil deposit bylaw, which is still in the process of being written, will regulate and manage the deposit of soil on lands within the regional district.

As well, the new NDP government has agreed to review the current practice of relying on professionals who work for companies to also provide environmental assessments of the companies’ projects, partly as a result of the contaminated soil issue.

During the past 10 years of Liberal rule in B.C., the government has increasingly relied on professionals hired by companies to provide environmental assessments of the projects instead of the past practice of having independent professionals provide the information.

Critics of the landfill had taken issue with the use of the model to allow its operations to proceed, despite the community’s concerns about impacts to their drinking water.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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