Ray Grigg

Pressing our luck with the watershed

Shades of Green with Ray Grigg

The treasures we have tend to be unnoticed until we lose them. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than clean air and water.

The city of Campbell River and its surrounding communities will remember the haze of sour pulpmill smog that plagued their air for decades. Well, the pulpmill is gone, the air is clear and clean, so we should give thanks for this gift of nature and remember that we once didn’t have it.

The same applies to water. The clean and clear water supplied by the Campbell River watershed is a treasure that would be the envy of countless communities around the world. New York spent billions buying a similar watershed just so it could have the kind of pristine water that the Campbell supplies for free.

But this watershed is already at risk. The tailing pond of the mine in Strathcona Park hovers over the entire water supply like an angel of death. And the waste from Quinsam Coal broods like a waiting terrorist to contaminate its namesake river. Now, Uplands Excavating, a local company, wants to “deposit up to 500,000 cubic metres of non-hazardous solid waste, such as construction, demolition and land-clearing materials, including asbestos,” on its property within the watershed.

Some ideas, in principle, are profoundly unwise. And this is one of them. The Campbell River community and its city councillors, before they give even a moment of serious consideration to this idea, should look south to the Shawnigan Lake fiasco, where a similar attempt to dispose of unwanted material in a watershed has led to protests and ultimately a court ruling presently suspending operations.

Upland Excavating’s proposal is a classical example of The Law of Concentrated Benefit Over Diffuse Injury, where the self-serving idea of an individual or corporation inflicts risk or harm on a large group of innocent people. The best strategy for responding to Upland’s proposal is to stop it before it proceeds any further. As a proposal, it is already sullying the reputation of Upland Excavating, and it reeks with ominous risk and potential harm to the entire community.

Of course, the consulting engineer for the proposal tries to make it seem as safe as possible. “Leachate from the base of the landfill will be collected and pumped into a treatment pond, called the aeration pond. The key to this is it’s a batch treatment. The leachate will be treated to meet the standards as it is pumped to the the infiltration pond and also verified through a series of monitoring wells.”

And what does the city and a community of thousands get for this technological exercise that will subject their water to possibly indefinite risk? “Probably” six full-time” jobs and some part-time ones with “various projects”. This is a typical strategy for proposals that benefit a few while offering risk to many: maximize the benefits, minimize the dangers, and couch the advantages with vague qualifiers.

The local Campbell River Environmental Council is justified in warning the community about this ill-conceived idea. The Campbell River City Council has politely heard the proposal.

It should just as politely tell the proponents that it already has two risky ventures in its treasured watershed and that another one would be pressing its luck.