In Question Period, I asked the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy why have the water sampling results from the shallow monitoring wells at the contaminated soil site in Shawnigan Lake not been made available to the public. It’s been over eight years since our community has been raising concerns about this site. I followed up by asking the premier what he has to say to Shawnigan community members who still do not trust that the public interest is being served.
S. Furstenau: One of the greatest concerns we’ve had in Shawnigan about the contaminated soil that’s sitting on the property on Stebbings Road is the potential for contaminants to leach into groundwater that sits beneath where the soil is sitting. The soil that was imported to this site in the winter of 2015-2016 had high levels of chloride. Since then, chloride levels in the monitoring well have increased more than fivefold. Shallow monitoring wells were part of the conditions for the final closure plan that this minister ordered and were installed in October. However, the ministry did not require tests of those wells until after the first heavy rains in December. Tests were done December 19 and 20. It is February 18, two months since those water samples were tested.
My question is to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy: why have the water sampling results from the shallow monitoring wells not been made available to the public?
Hon. G. Heyman: As the member knows, both of our parties share a commitment to ensuring that British Columbians are able to meaningfully exercise their right to clean, safe drinking water and to protect watersheds.
As the member also knows, we spent a lot of time designing the final closure plan for that landfill because I needed to be assured so that I could assure residents of Shawnigan Lake that we were exercising every option available to us, under existing legislation, to ensure that the plan was robust, that it would entail ongoing monitoring, additional monitoring from shallow groundwater wells, and include the ability of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to alter the conditions if results or any other factors indicated that that should be done.
We’re committed to protecting water. As to the results about which the member is asking, they will be posted on Monday, February 24.
Mr. Speaker: House Leader, Third Party on a supplemental.
S. Furstenau: It’s been over eight years since our community has been raising concerns about this site, this company and this process. A small sampling of issues: a secret profit-sharing deal between the quarry owners and the engineers, a court decision by Supreme Court Justice Sewell, who said that this matter struck at the heart of the integrity of the Environmental Management Act.
Owners of the landfill site have not paid their taxes, and now the process has begun to transfer the landfill site and the property next door, on which 100,000 tonnes of soil of mysterious origin was dumped over the past several years to the province of B.C. Now, one of the original signers of the profit-sharing deal is the person today who signs off on the water sampling to the Minister of Environment.
My question is to the Premier. When he was Leader of the Opposition, he came to the Shawnigan community and said that he stood for protecting drinking water and protecting our community. What does he say today to Shawnigan community members who still do not trust that the public interest is being served?
Hon. G. Heyman: As I pointed out in my answer to the first question, we have taken a number of steps in the closure plan to increase transparency and to be able to respond to any information that comes to us.
To the specific points raised by the member, as the member knows, we introduced and passed a Professional Governance Act to deal with the very issue that she raised about a lack of transparency about interests and conflict of interest, potentially, that arose in the Shawnigan case. With respect to the water sampling, part of the closure plan conditions are that there will always be an independent observer, either from the ministry or a qualified professional retained by the ministry, to ensure that when activities are taking place on site, we have an independent set of eyes overseeing that.
Next week our ministry staff will be going up to conduct additional water sampling ourselves, to increase transparency. And as the member knows, this Friday my ministry staff have scheduled a briefing on results to date and what we’re doing with both her, as the MLA, the Cowichan Valley regional district and the Malahat Nation. We’re committed to transparency. We’re committed to sharing information. We’re committed to protecting drinking water in the Cowichan Valley and Shawnigan Lake.