Horgan flip-flops: contaminated soil landfill to remain in Shawnigan
On June 26, 2019, Minister Heyman approved the Final Closure Plan developed by Sperling Hansen Associates for the contaminated soil landfill located in the Shawnigan Lake watershed. There are several troubling aspects to this decision.
One is that approximately five tonnes of elemental sulphur was deposited onto the site. A Contaminated Sites Association professional informed the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change that elemental sulphur is so problematical that no other landfill site in B.C. will accept sulphur-laden soils. The reason is that elemental sulphur can be oxidized into sulphuric acid. Such acid production promotes release of heavy metals present in the contaminated landfill to the environment. Both the Ministry and Sperling Hansen assured us, but presented no evidence, that this sulphur has been neutralized with Portland cement. Despite this apparent neutralization we note that the leachate collected from the landfill site has been progressively becoming more acidic, with a pH of 7.55 in August, 2018 to a pH of 6.69 in January of 2019. We do not know what the current pH of leachate collected is since the Ministry has ceased posting such data. No reason has been given as to the reason the leachate is becoming progressively more acidic.
Other problematical aspects of this decision include the fact that the Ministry of Environment, not Cobble Hill Holdings, the owners of the contaminated soil landfill site, asked Sperling Hansen to develop a final closure plan. We find this especially strange since Cobble Hill owed Sperling Hansen approximately $100,000 for work previously done. Both of these facts the Shawnigan Research Group learned from Sperling Hansen in meetings held at the Ministry in January and April of this year. Furthermore, Sperling Hansen developed a plan, approved by the Ministry, that required bringing in an additional ~70,000 tonnes of fill, thus allowing Cobble Hill to generate additional income, likely more than enough to pay the debt owed to Sperling Hansen. When the Shawnigan Research Group pointed out the apparent conflict of interest to Minister Heyman, the Ministry asked Sperling Hansen to sign a declaration that there was no conflict of interest. Apparently, SHA indicated there was no conflict of interest and that was that.
The Minister has stated that the community was consulted. Consultation suggests a dialogue, yet the Ministry has completely ignored our concerns regarding the unsuitability of the clay liner because of high (30 per cent) smectite content; the evidence that the LLDPE base liner is not intact; the leak detection system is non-functional, also noted by Hemmera Environmental Consultants hired by the Ministry to review an early version of the closure plan; that the leachate and monitoring wells sometimes contained polyaromatic hydrocarbons such as the carcinogen benzo(a)pyrene suggesting the site is leaking; the increase in chloride and sodium in monitoring well #3S, again suggestive that the site is leaking; and the contradiction between the quarterly and annual reports concerning fly-ash and what the Shawnigan Research Group has documented.
When in opposition John Horgan stated, in response to Justice Sewell’s ruling that denied the Environmental Appeal Board’s reinstatement of the Waste Discharge Permit #105809 to allow the dumping of contaminated soil in the Shawnigan Lake watershed: “Hopefully this Supreme Court decision will put a halt to this nonsense, and the Clark government will assure residents that this sort of thing won’t happen again.” Despite such public statements, on March 29, 2019, the Ministry gave a Notice of Intent to issue a waste discharge certificate to Upland Excavating allowing deposition of waste, not only of contaminated soil but also wood waste and asbestos, in their quarry situated within the Campbell River watershed, just metres away from Rico and McIvor Lakes. The governing party changed in the spring of 2017, unfortunately Ministry policies have not.
Bernhard H.J. Juurlink