British Columbia

Shawnigan Lake contaminated soil dump not allowed, rules B.C. Supreme Court

The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled against a controversial soil dump above Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island, after years of dispute and major protests.

Like 'waking up from a nightmare' says Cowichan Valley Regional District after court ruling

The company says there is a liner and a number of redundant safety systems to ensure contaminated soil is properly encapsulated. Decades from now, it says the entire quarry will be filled in, capped and reforested. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled against a controversial soil dump above Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island, saying the contaminated soil treatment facility is not a permitted use for the property.

In a 38-page decision, Judge Brian MacKenzie ruled the operators, South Island Resource Management, Ltd., were using the property as a landfill — something they contested — and which is not allowed under the regional district's zoning bylaws.

That means no more contaminated soil can be dumped there, though the judge did not require the owner or operator to remove what's already there.

The decision comes after years of dispute, and a protest in January that drew more than 500 people, with residents concerned the contaminated dirt could taint the water of Shawnigan Lake, which thousands of people in the area north of Victoria rely on for drinking water.

Children's singer Raffi even penned a song called "Beautiful Shawnigan Lake," singing, "won't let anyone poison her, we're gonna let her shine" to the tune of This Little Light of Mine.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at Shawnigan Lake Jan. 6, 2016 to voice their opposition to a soil dumping site near their watershed. (Carol Anne Shaw/Twitter)

'Waking up from a nightmare'

The Cowichan Valley Regional District, which brought the court case forward to enforce its own bylaws, is calling the decision a major victory.

"We went from a community that was dreaming about its future to a community that was suddenly in a nightmare. And today it's like waking up from that nightmare," Sonia Furstenau, a director with the CVRD, told All Points West host Robyn Burns.

"What we've learned in Shawnigan is that water is the heart and lifeblood of a community and without fresh, clean drinking water, communities cannot thrive."

In a statement, South Island Resource Management, which operates the facility, said it is complying with the court decision, but will continue its other operations on the site.

"We continue to operate the mine and manage the material already on site," the statement reads.

Cobble Hill Holdings, which owns the property, is considering an appeal of the decision, according to the operator.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment, which in 2013 issued a permit to allow the contaminated soil treatment facility, said in a statement ministry staff needed time to review the court decision before commenting.

Read the court decision

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With files from All Points West

To hear the interview with CVRD director Sonia Furstenau, click the audio labelled: 'Huge relief' as court rules Shawnigan Lake soil dump not allowed


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