Green Party House Leader Sonia Furstenau sought assurances in the B.C. Legislature Wednesday that a controversial landfill expansion proposed for the Campbell River drinking watershed will pose no risk to city’s water supply.
“Imagine how a community feels when a government issues a permit for a contaminated landfill within its drinking watershed nestled between two bodies of water, one of which is connected to the town’s drinking water,” Furstenau said during Wednesday’s Question Period. “Actually, this tale is becoming too familiar. First Shawnigan Lake and now Campbell River.”
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Furstenau was referring to Upland Excavating’s application to expand its landfill at its Highway 28 location. Upland has submitted a waste discharge application to the Ministry of Environment for an Operational Certificate to accommodate a landfill on Upland-owned lands at 7295 Gold River Highway that would treat and deposit up to 500,000 cubic metres of non-hazardous solid waste, such as construction, demolition and land-clearing materials, including asbestos.
But members of the Campbell River Environmental Committee (CREC) are concerned about the proposed landfill’s proximity to Rico Lake and McIvor Lake, which is connected to the city’s drinking water system.
The consultant on the project, GHD Consulting, says groundwater monitoring locations are located throughout the site and upgradient surface water quality will be monitored at both McIvor and Rico lakes and the water quality will meet the Ministry of Environment standards and will be monitored quarterly for verification.
CREC has been carrying out sustained opposition to the project attempting to enlist support from the City of Campbell River by bringing their own experts to present before city council and keeping the issue in the public eye.
Both the Campbell River proposal and a controversial contaminated soil landfill proposed for Shawnigan Lake which was terminated in 2017 after years of lawsuits and demonstrations, have certain parallels, Furstenau said.
“Both have many of the same elements,” she said, “fractured bedrock, duelling experts and a community group raising red flags.”
As in the Shawnigan Lake situation, the Campbell River debate sees experts engaged by CREC painting a “very different and much less rosy picture” of the potential threats posed to a community drinking water source from a “quarry turned into a landfill that will be allowed to accept demolition waste, construction waste, land-clearing waste and contaminated soil.”
Furstenau wanted to know from George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, what additional precautions have been taken to ensure that there is no risk whatsoever to the city’s water supply.
Heyman replied to Furstenau after first acknowledging her role in fighting on behalf of Shawnigan Lake residents against the landfill in the south-Island community.
“I know, and she knows, that there is virtually nothing more important to communities and individuals than to be assured that their drinking water supply is safe,” Heyman said.
The minister said he and his staff have met with CREC and others in the community about this issue but he reminded the House that the application for an operational certificate will be decided by a “statutory decision maker” and there have been a number of technical reviews and we are now in a 30-day public comment period for the application.
“I urge people to use that 30-day period and I assure everyone that those comments will be taken into consideration,” Heyman said.
Furstenau said there are already conflicting reports presented including one done for the City of Campbell River.
“Given the parallels with what happened in Shawnigan Lake and the lengthy and costly legal battles that have ensued and given that this permit is likely creating the same conflict between the Ministry of the Environment and Campbell River, wouldn’t a precautionary approach that takes into account all the relevant evidence be prudent,” the Green Party MLA for Cowichan Valley asked Heyman.
Heyman responded that ministry staff are aware that the government believes it is every British Columbian’s right to safe drinking water but it will be up the statutory decision maker. He said the final decision has not been made but when it is, it will take all of the evidence into account.
– With files from Kristen Douglas, Mike Davies and Robert Barron