Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau. (Lexi Bainas/Citizen)

Government allows contaminated soil to remain at B.C.’s Shawnigan Lake

Community members now left to indefinitely monitor the site

The dirty dirt stays where it is.

The provincial government announced July 2 a final closure plan that fails to remove about 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil at a site in Shawnigan Lake by Stebbings Road.

The dumping was controversial from the start.

“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.”

READ ALSO: Tentative plans call for contaminated soil to stay at contentious Shawnigan Lake site

The provincial government says leaving the soil at the site is safe.

“Based on a comprehensive technical review of the plan and taking into consideration the scientific evidence and data, the approved plan with conditions provides for sufficient protection of the environment and watershed,” states the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change in their announcement.

It has been more than two years since the controversial landfill was closed to new soil when its operating permit was pulled by the province after years of ​lawsuits and protests.

Now the province is turning the site back over to the owners to implement the final closure plan, which does not include removing the contaminated soil.

“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.

READ ALSO: Shawnigan Lake residents take to the streets over soil

“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.

Furstenau is furious.

“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,” she said.

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