Tentative final closure plans for the contaminated soil site near Shawnigan Lake are not being well received by residents.
Sierra Acton, Shawnigan Lake’s director with the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said not only does the plan propose leaving the approximately 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil at the site in place, it also calls for trucking in 70,000 additional tonnes of industrial grade fill to help cap the existing soil.
“The community would lose their minds if this plan proceeds,” Acton said.
“It’s completely unacceptable to consider leaving the contaminated soil at the site.”
It’s been more than two years since the controversial landfill finally closed when its operating permit was pulled from its owners, Cobble Hill Holdings and South Island Aggregates, by the province after years of lawsuits and demonstrations.
It’s also been a full year since members of the SRA and their supporters took to the streets for their “Rally for Removal” event that called for all the contaminated soil at the closed site to be removed as soon as possible.
A document from the Shawnigan Residents Association states that the province has already given provisional approval to the closure plan, prepared by Sperling Hansen Associates, a B.C.-based company specializing in solid waste management, on behalf of the owners.
The document states that on Jan. 4, 2019, representatives of the Shawnigan Research Group, which has been monitoring the site for years, met with officials from the Ministry of Environment and the president of Sperling Hansen Associates to review the proposed final closure plan.
“It is the opinion of the SRG that this improved final closure plan has as many flaws in it as the previous closure plans,” the document states.
“When the SRG highlighted the problems present in the plan, the response was that the contaminated soil is 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 will be protected.”
But the document claims that it was disclosed at the meeting that Sperling Hansen Associates were not informed that many tonnes of elemental sulphur are present in the contaminated soil at the landfill.
“This is, of course, material to the closure plan and it was disappointing to learn that the SHA plan did not consider it,” said the document.
Comments from Sperling Hansen Associates were not received by press time.
Officials from the ministry will be meeting with the SRA and other representatives from the community on April 16 to provide an update on the status of the site and the closure plan that has been provided by Sperling Hansen Associates and Cobble Hill Holdings.
A ministry statement said the spill-prevention order, originally issued in January, 2017, remains in effect to lessen the risk of an escape or spill of contaminants from the landfill.
“Though the landfill site is no longer operating, the company is still responsible for maintaining and monitoring the site, and undertaking any required actions in accordance with the spill-prevention order,” the statement said.
“The ministry continues to monitor this site closely and is carefully reviewing the final closure plan submitted in accordance with the spill-prevention order to inform a decision on the next steps for the site.”
Sonia Furstenau, the MLA for the Cowichan Valley, was one the leaders of the campaign to shut down the contaminated soil site when she was the director for Shawnigan Lake at the CVRD.
She said she and other advocates have made it clear to the government that they want nothing less than all of the contaminated soil at the site removed.
“We’ve always said that we have not completed our work until the soil is removed,” Furstenau said.
“It’s been more than two years now since the operation was closed, and it’s frustrating for many in the community that the soil is still there.”
Furstenau said there’s plenty of evidence that there currently are much higher amounts of contaminants like sulphur and chlorine in the streams and waterways below the site than above it, evidence that contaminants are leaching from the site.
“The whole process since this project was first announced and given a provincial permit to operate has been a tragedy of errors,” she said.
“The site was never an appropriate location for the contaminated soil from the beginning.”