VICTORIA, B.C. — Today, the BC Government has approved the final closure plan, which fails to remove the approximately 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil that has been abandoned at the site located directly above the water source for the 12,000 residents of Shawnigan Lake.
“Abandoning contaminated soil above a water source for 12,000 people should be an impossible conclusion to come to, and instead we have a system in which the Minister appears to be saying that this is the only conclusion he is able to make,” said Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley. “That is unacceptable for my community and it is unacceptable for every community in British Columbia. Every single citizen of this province deserves to have a government that puts protecting their drinking water as a top priority. Failing to do that is a failure of this government.”
The permit was first suspended in January 2017 in response to non-compliance incidents from 2016, when heavy rains led to untreated water leaching into the surrounding environment.
It has been more than two years since the controversial landfill was finally closed to new soil when its operating permit was pulled from its owners by the province after years of lawsuits and protests. Now, instead of removing the soil, the province is turning the site back over to these very same owners to implement the final closure plan.
“It is important to note that Shawnigan is not only a key community drinking water source, it could serve as a reservoir for other communities during times of drought,” said Furstenau, who has been advocating for the community of Shawnigan Lake since 2013. She was elected CVRD district area director in 2014. “Currently, we are in the midst of extreme drought on Vancouver Island.
“Over the past two years I have continued to work with the community, the Shawnigan Research Group, ministry staff, and professional experts. We have raised this issue countless times in the legislature - in fact, it spurred on recent legislative changes, including the passage of the Professional Governance Act.”
The B.C. Green Caucus introduced a private member’s bill in 2018 that would have provided government with the tools to limit solid waste dumps above aquifers. Furthermore, this decision demonstrates that the ministry needs greater powers within the Environmental Management Act to consider the history of operators when making these sorts of decisions, akin to the fit and proper clause used in other acts.
“Anyone who knows the history of this issue in Shawnigan knows that the soil remaining on site is not an appropriate solution. In an era when droughts are more common, and our water resources need more protection, government must have the ability to protect our resources and ensure water security for all of our communities. We demand more from this government.”
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