Sonia Furstenau

Sonia Furstenau

Sonia Furstenau: Setting the record straight on soil fight

We were a community that had been ignored by a process that was a failure

By Sonia Furstenau, guest columnist

In the March 29 article, “Soil firms to close quarry”, Mike Kelly and Marty Block make several questionable statements.

For example, Mr. Kelly stated “It’s too bad that a small group of people” spread “fear and unfounded allegations”.

Let’s look at the facts. At a public meeting in Shawnigan in July 2012, over 300 residents came out to state their opposition to the proposed landfill. Only two people supported it, including the daughter of Mr. Block, the quarry owner. The CVRD, the CRD, VIHA, the City of Victoria, and Cowichan Tribes all stated their opposition to this permit. After the Environmental Appeal Board decision upheld the permit in March 2015, over 15,000 people signed a petition calling on Minister Polak to revoke it. Over 1,600 people attended a rally at the B.C. Legislature in May 2015. And hundreds of people in Shawnigan contributed to fundraising, protesting, letter writing, and raising awareness. By December 2015, we had 14 teams of eight to 10 people each working together in a coordinated effort to get the permit revoked. It was never a “small group of people” — we were a community that had been ignored by a process that was a failure, and we were a community unwilling to accept the risk imposed on us without our permission.

Mr. Marty Block states that the soil “was benign and under strict guidelines.” The permit allowed the company to import soil that was contaminated with dioxins, furans, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons. These are not benign substances. The “strict guidelines” that Mr. Block referred to were the conditions of the permit, and as Minister Polak stated in her Feb. 23 letter, this company did not respond to “outstanding non-compliances and repeatedly missed deadlines with respect to its permit requirements.”

Finally, Mr. Block and Mr. Kelly make no mention of the January 2016 BC Supreme Court decision that imposed a stay on the permit. In his decision, Justice Sewell highlighted the secret profit-sharing agreement between Cobble Hill Holdings and Active Earth Engineering as undermining the legitimacy of the permit.

The final step that the Ministry of Environment must now take is to have the soil removed from the site. Water samples since October 2016 show that heavy metals are leaching off the site and into the environment, which is what the independent experts said would happen from the beginning.

The Ministry of Environment must also assess all the ways that this process failed. “Getting to yes” has turned into nothing short of a fiasco in Shawnigan Lake. “Listening to communities” should be the approach all governments adopt in circumstances like this — and if the government had listened to us from the start, we could have avoided this costly and damaging disaster.

Sonia Furstenau is the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s area director for Shawnigan Lake.