Squamish man says error-filled petition made him abandon wood waste project and lose $400K
Jeff Levine says a petition calling a proposed wood dump 'toxic' paints him as an environmental monster
A Squamish, B.C., businessman said he's been deluged with nasty phone calls and emails after an online petition labelled a dumpsite he was planning for a large property he owns near Desolation Sound as "toxic."
Jeff Levine said he abandoned his Ministry of Environment application for a non-hazardous wood waste landfill on four acres of the 155-acre property he recently purchased because of the backlash from the petition.
"People have threatened me, verbally abused me, threatened my family. It's not worth it, it's absolutely not worth it. And it's all because this person called it toxic waste — and it's not," he said.
Desolation Sound is a popular area for recreational boaters located about 150 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.
The petition was posted on Change.org Dec. 14 under the title Major Vancouver developer planning on dumping toxic waste into Desolation Sound area.
It claims Levine, through his solely owned company, was planning to bring in "industrial contaminated waste" from a former pulp mill site in Squamish that's now owned by Bosa Properties.
The petition had over 9,500 signatures and was declared a "victory" when it was removed from the website Dec. 16.
According to Levine, cancelling the application comes at a personal price tag of $400,000, money he had already sunk into the venture.
He said not only did the petition portray him as an "environmental monster," it misrepresented the facts.
He did not have any contracts to bring waste in and the dump he proposed was for wood waste and previously buried wood waste from sawmills, not from a pulp mill, as the petition states.
"It's all the sawdust, the bark and the small little wood bits from after making dimensional lumber that we use to build our houses and fences," said Levine, describing the material.
"There's places all over the Lower Mainland that need to dispose of clean wood waste material that has dirt and rock and that can't be used in biofuels or other endeavours. I thought this could be an opportunity for me, so I took it."
The petition also states: "We've been able to access reports on the waste materials and it indicates high levels (up to 100X higher than legal limit) of a chemical called toluene, which is highly toxic. Exposure during pregnancy can result in birth defects."
CBC was unable to obtain the reports cited in the petition.
But Keystone Environmental, the company that conducted the environmental assessment for Levine's proposal, said any toluene at the dump site would be "biogenic," or naturally occurring.
"..the toluene is considered to meet site specific numerical standards as it is not leachable," said Keystone. "Numerous studies have been completed to confirm that toluene can be produced naturally within pristine environments ... and in soils with high organic content, due to anaerobic microbial activity."
Keystone also said the potential dump posed no risk to drinking wells or the marine environment.
CBC reached out to petition starter Sean Clark, but he declined multiple interview requests.
Clark is a property owner at Bliss Landing, a private gated community one kilometre away from Levine's property.
Clark and Change.Org both emailed CBC News directly on Dec. 14, promoting the petition as newsworthy and offering interviews.
But on Dec. 16, a Change.Org spokesperson told CBC in an email: "The petition was started by a small group of local residents and I've just learned that they are no longer comfortable speaking to the media."
The petition was taken down the same day "at the request of the petition starter," said the spokesperson.
Levine believes his property is a good candidate for a wood waste dump because it was clear cut 20 years ago and has existing logging roads and barge access. As well, the Crown land surrounding the property was clear cut in 2019.
He said his application was guided by the Ministry of Environment and had met all requirements up to the point of withdrawal, including signoff from the Tla'amin First Nation and an environmental assessment that cost $200,000.
Levine said he is now reviewing his options.
"I've lost a significant amount of money because of outright lies from people who should have known better," he said.
- A previous version of this story misstated Bosa Properties as Bosa Developments.Dec 19, 2020 3:37 PM PT