Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: Contaminated soil fight not over

I expect that leaving the soil in place is a huge mistake

In the years I’ve been covering the contaminated soil story at Shawnigan Lake, I don’t recall anyone from that community saying it would be a good idea to leave the soil in place.

Yet, that’s exactly what the government intends to do.

The plan, announced in early July, calls for the approximately 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil that was trucked to the site on Stebbings Road over the years the old quarry was in operation as soil-storage facility to stay, and to cap it with an additional 70,000 tonnes of industrial grade fill as well.

The government believes the contaminated soil will be sealed in such a way that no additional water can enter and, ultimately, the soil will be so dry that no leachate will be generated; therefore the environment is supposed to be adequately protected.

George Heyman, B.C.’s minister of environment and climate change strategy, has said the plan has been reviewed by the ministry’s technical staff, is based on science and was reviewed and checked by three sets of qualified professionals and firms.

But Bernie Juurlink, a member of the Shawnigan Research Group which has been monitoring the site for years, told me last year that the group’s research suggests that the soil site was leaking unacceptably, and that the base liner for all that contaminated soil is inadequate.

The research by the SRG, and other groups and individuals, had long raised fears in the community that the local drinking water would be contaminated through leaching from the site, where rain seeps into the ground, dissolves chemicals and contaminants in the soil and transports them into underground water supplies.

The watershed in that area serves the approximately 12,000 people of Shawnigan Lake and acts as a backup water supply for various communities in the Cowichan Valley Regional District.

Sonia Furstenau, Cowichan Valley’s MLA who had fought for years to have the site shut down, said it was never an appropriate location for contaminated soil in the first place, and that the soil should not stay there.

“This is a site that is above that drinking watershed, sitting on top of groundwater with surface water wrapping around it,” she said in a previous interview.

It seems to me that the ministry is more motivated by the fact that the removal of the contaminated soil is estimated to be in the range of approximately $11 million, rather than any deep concerns for the environment and the surrounding communities.

I expect that leaving the soil in place is a huge mistake, and it seems that the government has not learned any lessons from the years of lawsuits and demonstrations by the local citizens that were instrumental in shutting the operation down in the first place.

If the government thinks that the decision to leave the soil there will meet only light opposition, they obviously haven’t done their homework.

In fact, a community town hall meeting, hosted by Sierra Acton, the director for Shawnigan Lake at the Cowichan Valley Regional District, to discuss the final closure plan of the site, was held just last night, and it was supposed to attract a big crowd.

We’ll likely be hearing of their plans very soon.

The long saga of the contaminated soil site is not over.

Not by a long shot.

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