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Victoria chapter calls on defence minister to help protect Shawnigan Lake drinking water

Chapter activist Ted Woynillowicz stands behind Shawnigan Lake area director Sonia Furstenau at yesterday’s protest. Source: CHEK News.

The Council of Canadians Victoria chapter was at a protest at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt yesterday calling on the federal defence minister to help them defend the right to water.

CHEK News reports, “Shawnigan Lake Residents are hoping the Department of National Defence [DND] will stop dumping contaminated soil above Shawnigan Lake. In March, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the controversial Stebbings Road site can’t be used as a landfill. But six contracts — responsible for 106,000 tonnes of waste — can be fulfilled and the vast majority of the tainted soil is coming from DND.” Shawnigan Lake area director Sonia Furstenau says, “We’re asking the defence minister to help us defend our watershed.”

The article adds, “Defence minister Harjit Sajjan says he was recently made aware of the situation and will look into it.”

A federal government media release from March 2013 says, “The Esquimalt Graving Dock has been used for the repair and maintenance of military and civilian vessels since 1927. Decades of work at the dock have contributed to sediment contamination in the seabed around the facility.”

It’s that contaminated soil that is being dumped in the Shawnigan Lake watershed area. The dump site itself is located on top of an aquifer, beside a creek leading to the community’s drinking water.

CBC explains the current situation following the B.C. Supreme Court ruling on March 21 that found that dumping the contaminated soil was not a permitted use for the property under the regional district’s zoning bylaws. It notes, “South Island Resource Management [the company that operates the dump site] appealed and asked for a stay of the ruling until that appeal is heard. A decision released [on April 15] granted a partial stay that allows South Island Resource Management to resume operations so it can complete existing contracts to accept contaminated dirt.”

Cowichan Valley Regional District will be in court in May seeking to have that partial stay lifted. If they can’t get the stay lifted, they are asking that South Island Aggregates be required to put up a $12 million bond to cover clean-up costs. The appeal to the March 21 B.C. Supreme Court ruling will be heard in August.

The Council of Canadians Victoria and Mid-Island chapters have been actively opposing the dump site.

In March 2014, the Victoria chapter protested outside an Environmental Appeal Board hearing to demand that the BC Ministry of the Environment reverse its decision to grant South Island Aggregates a permit to dump toxic soil near Shawnigan Lake. In May 2015, the chapter joined with 1,000 people at a rally at the BC Legislature in Victoria to protest the dump site. In June 2015, the chapter participated in a blockade of the entrance to the dump site. In Jan. 2016, the Victoria and Mid-Island chapters were at a protest at Shawnigan Lake just prior to the beginning of the BC Supreme Court hearings. And in Feb. 2016, the Mid-Island chapter attended a Sacred Land & Sacred Waters ceremony aimed at stopping the dump.