Shawnigan Lake residents claim industry is threatening their health
Another day, another protest at the Shawnigan Lake contaminated soil dump.
“We are going to get louder, and louder, and louder,” says Sonia Furstenau, Shawnigan Lake Area Director. She was with approximately 500 other protesters, in perhaps the biggest demonstration yet at the former rock quarry.
South Island Aggregates received a permit to turn the area into a dump site for contaminated soil last year. It allows them to truck in 100,000 tons of contaminated soil per year for 50 years.
But the 12,000 people who rely on the watershed below say their worse fears are being realized.
“It’s brown, orange sludge that’s coming off of there,” said Kyla Mortil, one of the protesters.
“This is insanity, our water is being poisoned and our government is doing nothing to stop this.”
In a statement, South Islands Aggregates said they were fully compliant.
“There is no quantifiable risk from the site to human health in the Shawnigan Lake watershed and we continue to hope that reasonable debate will prevail,” they wrote.
The government has also been steadfast in supporting the project, saying the permit was granted by a technical expert.
“The original decision to grant the permit was made by a Ministry statutory decision maker who was a technical expert, independent of any political process,” said Environment Minister Mary Polak in a statement today.
“As minister, I must respect the independence of ministry technical experts, and ensure I do not act without appropriate evidence.”
Global Legislature Bureau Chief Keith Baldrey says that’s probably the biggest stumbling block for protesters wishing to see action.
“We rarely do see ministerial override at that level,” he said.
“I really can’t remember the last time an Environment Minister override technical advice.”
Politics at play?
Today, a helicopter was at the protest, giving politicians a chance to see the site from high in the sky – and to offer more criticism of the government.
“What was below the surface? And for the water in this area, what are the cumulative impacts of all of this discharge?” asked Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver.
“Nobody’s really addressing those questions.”
“It’s been three years of anxiety for the people in this region, it needs to stop, and it could stop today with the minister pulling the permit,” said NDP Leader John Horgan.
But both of those leaders are Vancouver Island MLAs – an area where the governing Liberal Party won just two of 14 seats in the 2013 provincial election.
“The BC Liberal government and Vancouver Island, there’s a real disconnect,” said Baldrey.
“If this was happening in Kamloops or Prince George, I think the outcome might be a little different here. It’s hard for Vancouver Island, we see it with ferry protests, we see it with Shawnigan Lake: it’s hard to get through to a government that doesn’t have representation here.”