British Columbia

Court ruling halts contaminated soil dumping in Shawnigan Lake

Ruling that stays permit until further review is conducted is latest development in long legal battle

Shawnigan Lake contaminated soil site

The facility accepts and stores contaminated soil at a quarry in the hills above Shawnigan Lake. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

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Residents of Shawnigan Lake, B.C., are celebrating a court victory that halts truckloads of contaminated dirt headed for their community, at least for now.

A B.C. Supreme Court justice set aside an earlier court ruling that allowed operations to continue at the quarry on Stebbings Road.

The permit has been stayed, meaning shipments of contaminated soil must stop until B.C.'s Environmental Appeal Board conducts a review.

New evidence allowed

Al Brunet, the vice-president of the residents association, said a key element of Tuesday's court ruling was to allow additional evidence in the review process.

"Had everyone known all the facts would the permit still have been granted?" Brunet said. "That's the question we wanted answered."

Tuesday's judgment is the latest in a long legal battle over the quarry on Stebbings Road, which has a permit from the B.C. Ministry of Environment to accept and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil each year.

Water contamination fears

Residents in Shawnigan Lake have long fought against the dump over fears it could contaminate the drinking water supply.

A separate court ruling in the summer of 2016 found the operation violated local land-use bylaws. Shipments of dirt stopped temporarily but resumed when the decision was overturned on appeal. 

The Cowichan Valley Regional District has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to review that decision.

The province has maintained the site does not pose a risk to the health of residents.

Minister reviewing permit

A statement from the B.C. Ministry of Environment said Minister Mary Polak is considering suspending or canceling ‎the company's Environmental Management Act permit in a separate review of whether the company is satisfying the conditions of its permit

Sonia Furstenau, the CVRD Director for the Shawnigan Lake area, called on the environment minister to act without delay. 

"The Ministry of Environment has all the evidence in front of it that shows that for months on end this company has not met the requirements of its permit," Furstenau said. 

With files from Elizabeth McArthur.

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