Soil Company Gets Clean Bill of Health

The Ministry of Environment recently issued a report regarding the soil internment facility in Cobble Hill operated by Cobble Hill Holdings ( also know as South Island Aggregates) giving the facility a clean bill of health.

The testing analysed water from various location on and around the soil remediation site including South Shawnigan Creek upstream of CHH properties, Rip Rap Tributary  located immediately downstream from where discharges occur at the permitted site, Cobble Hill Holdings site in the outflow seep  before it reaches Shawnigan Creek ,and at South Shawnigan Creek located downstream of where Cobble Hill Holdings outflow empties into the creek.

According to the Ministry report , “On August 21, 2013, a permit was issued to Cobble Hill Holdings (CHH) for a contaminated soil treatment and landfill facility located on a parcel of land near Shawnigan Lake. The permit allows CHH to accept contaminated soil and process it through bioremediation prior to landfilling or to directly discharge into an engineered landfill facility, as well as discharge treated effluent meeting aquatic and drinking water standards to an ephemeral stream. No waste has been discharged to the landfill to date.

The proposed activity has been labelled “soil dumping” by community activists who are worried that leaching from the site, although a fair distance from the community as shown above, could affect drinking water as well as harm the natural habitat. The Shawnigan Residents Association has been an active opponent of the company in its bid to establish operations.

In light of the recent report from the Ministry of Environment,  the President of  Cobble Hill Holdings, Michael J. Kelly, said that the Company was “pleased to hear, but are not surprised, that the non biased results of the extensive testing by the Ministry of Environment staff, resulted in a clean bill of health for both our properties, and more importantly all of the properties and water courses that abut ours.“

He further added that they were surprised that  the Shawnigan Lake Residents Association (SRA) was “not happy with the results that showed their water source is clean and safe.” In the Company’s view the SRA and the Area Directors are running “a fear campaign,  instead of basing their decisions on the truth of the science.

The recent evaluation from the Ministry shows that while there were procedural and other deficiencies, the company was  in compliance with the requirements of their permit. On June 4, 2015  an amended permit was issued.

Future evaluations will be made on the amended permit which will add requirements to have community representation on the advisory committee, fulltime weather protection of the soil management area, rules about wheel washing for trucks bringing in soil,  and requiring  landfill cell liners to be discarded rather than re-used.

On August 6, 2015 the SRA filed a notice of an application to be made  to the Supreme Court of BC seeking to reopen the SRA application  for disclosure originally made three weeks earlier.   citing new evidence shows Cobble Hill Holdings held back information that led to their initial permit in June 2013. The application states that “the new evidence impugns the truthfulness …before the court by CHH and SIA “ and that “it casts the credibility of Mr. Block and Mr. Kelly in the gravest light.

The initial permit was issued after a significant period of public consultation beginning May 2012 according to a report prepared for SIA Aggregates.  The report states that “likely less than 5%” of the population provided feedback. With a local population in the Shawnigan/Cobble Hill Area of around 8,000, 5%  represents about  400 people. 

Two public meetings were held attended by 200 and 350 people, one organized by  SIA Aggregates and another by the CVRD. The application was well‐publicized by both the company and an opposition group calling themselves the Shawnigan Creek Protection Society.   

The report further states that “support for the proposal was expressed by the Malahat First Nation, local contractors and developers and….individuals who viewed the proposed facility as an opportunity to stimulate the local economy…”

The main point of contention is a difference of opinion between hydrogeologists hired by the company to prepare evidence in support of the permit application and those hired by the SRA to rebut the company position. 

The company claims the bedrock underlying the site will prevent contaminated water from passing into the watershed, while the SRA expert claims the bedrock has been shattered by years of blasting in the rock quarry and rainwater is already passing through the site. 

Either way, it seems likely that the significant testing and tracking regimen required of the company under the permit will provide evidence one way or the other.