Former B.C. Environment Minister Sued for Shutting Contaminated Soil Landfill

As reported in the Vancouver Sun, The owner of a Shawnigan Lake quarry that was used as a landfill for contaminated soil is suing the provincial government and the former minister who ordered it shut down.

Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. recently filed suit in B.C. Supreme Court against the Province of British Columbia and Mary Polak, who was the B.C. Liberal environment minister and is still the MLA for Langley.

(Image: Shawnigan Lake, Canada. 6 Dec 2015. The containment system currently employed at the
SIA/SIRM Contaminated-Soil dumpsite, designed to prevent contaminants from travelling
into the Shawnigan Lake watershed. c Laura Colpitts)

The company said it is seeking general damages, special damages, aggravated damages, punitive damages, special costs and any other relief as the court “may deem fit to grant.” No amounts were specified other than “to be assessed.”

No statement of defence has been filed, either by Polak or the province.

In February 2017, while still environment minister, Polak cancelled the permit that allowed Cobble Hill Holdings to receive and store contaminated soil at its former rock quarry upstream of Shawnigan Lake.

Polak said the company had failed to meet a government deadline for an irrevocable letter of credit that would serve as a financial security.

In its suit, Cobble Hill Holdings says the government had not specified any form or amount for that credit, and had not approved the plans that would have been the basis of the financial guarantee.

The company’s operating permit, issued in 2013, had been suspended in January when the Environment Ministry asked for the financial security as well as a closure plan, including a cost estimate, and water management review reports.

Cobble Hill Holdings said it submitted updated plans to the ministry for approval on Feb. 20. Three days later, its permit was cancelled.

As a result, the suit says, the land is contaminated and Cobble Hill Holdings has suffered financial damages.

Cobble Hill Holdings had decided to lease the lands to South Island Resource Management and notified the ministry that that company would be the primary operator of the permit, the suit says.

Cancellation of the permit resulted in the termination of the lease, which had required South Island Resource Management to pay Cobble Hill Holdings $50,000 a month.

The permit issued in 2013 allowed Cobble Hill Holdings to receive and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year at its quarry.

It was upheld by the Environmental Appeal Board in 2015, but faced multiple court challenges before it was cancelled in February.

Much of the contaminated soil was from construction sites in Greater Victoria.

Shawnigan Lake residents expressed concern about contaminants leaching into their water supply, and packed open houses to voice opposition.

Demonstrators at the landfill were arrested for blocking trucks delivering the soil. They also went to the legislature to complain to the government.

Polak said repeatedly that the issue was a matter between the company, Environment Ministry technicians and the courts.

When the permit was cancelled in February, the government stressed the decision had nothing to do with any pollution detected or any legal issue being contended.

“To be clear, the permit was not cancelled due to pollution occurring, nor was it directly related to anything before the courts,” the Environment Ministry said in a statement.

“The decision was made on the principle of escalating enforcement and repeated failure by the company to meet deadlines and comply with permit requirements.”