VICTORIA — British Columbia’s environment minister cancelled a waste discharge permit for the company operating a dump site for contaminated soil that has been the subject of years of protests and court actions by local residents.
Mary Polak said Thursday she took the unprecedented step of invoking the Environmental Management Act to revoke the permit for Cobble Hill Holdings for its failure to meet disclosure requirements on out-standing non-compliance issues.
She said this is the first time a B.C. minister has used Section 18 of the act to cancel a discharge permit.
Last month, the Environment Ministry suspended the permit for the company’s operations in an old quarry near Shawnigan Lake, about 25 kilometres north of Victoria on Vancouver Island.
With a population of about 8,000, Shawnigan Lake is a bedroom community to Victoria and has numerous recreational properties.
Polak said the company was given 15 business days to provide three documents, including an irrevocable letter of credit, but only two of the documents were provided. She said the outstanding issue was related to the letter of credit, which did not meet specifications.
“They were given a deadline of Feb. 20, and they did provide materials, but on review our staff have determined that those were not sufficient and did not meet the requirements we had laid out to them,” said Polak.
Numerous protests by a residents’ group have been underway since 2013 when the ministry approved the permit for dumping annually up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil within the Shawnigan Lake watershed.
Last month, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Sewell stayed a B.C. government permit that allowed the company to operate the dump.
Sewell’s decision concluded B.C.’s environmental review board was misled about the relationship between Cobble Hill Holdings and Active Earth Engineering Ltd., the company that did the site’s technical assessment.
“I am satisfied that the board was misled about the true nature of the relationship between Active Earth and CHH and the fact that Active Earth’s principals were partners in the proposed facility,” said the ruling. “That is information that ought to have been disclosed to the board.”
New Democrat Bill Routley said it took the government too long to finally cancel the discharge permit at the soil dump in his Vancouver Island riding.
“It’s really scandalous in my view that there were so many missed opportunities along the way to correct this, and to stop it, and this government took the other path,” he said.
Routley said the dump was met with almost 100 per cent opposition by residents.
Cobble Hill Holdings lawyer John Alexander said in a statement that the company is reviewing the decision.
“This comes as a shock to the company, after it worked hard to answer the ministry’s concerns within the time provided,” said the statement.
Polak said her ministry ensures material on the property is managed in a way that does not present a risk to human health or the environment.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
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