The government says it will keep contaminated soil at a controversial Shawnigan Lake dump despite concerns from community members that the site threatens their drinking water.
A review conducted by B.C.'s environment ministry found that the Stebbings Road soil dump does not need a costly remediation because it does not threaten the Shawnigan Lake drinking watershed located downslope from the site, according to Minister George Heyman.
The cost of removing the soil, estimated to weigh 100,000 tonnes, was pegged at around $11 million.
"I'm convinced that there is a way to protect the environment and the water that does not involve spending $11 million of taxpayers money and potentially more," Heyman told CFAX 1070 Wednesday morning.
Heyman said the ministry would conduct additional shallow groundwater monitoring to make sure contaminants in the soil do not leech into the water supply for Shawnigan Lake, about 25 kilometres north of Victoria.
"I know that the residents would like the soil moved, and if that was the only option that could guarantee protection of the environment and water, I would've ordered it," Heyman said.
He said the ministry review was conducted with evidence and opinions from technical experts and independent professionals including hydrologists and engineers.
"We've put in place conditions in accordance with what they've recommended," Heyman said.
The dump was closed indefinitely in 2017 after the Ministry of Environment pulled a waste discharge permit after the site's operator failed to address outstanding non-compliance issues.
B.C. Supreme Court had previously stayed its operating permit after determining the site's technical assessment was conducted by an engineering firm that had financial stakes in the project.
Cobble Hill Holdings has launched a legal challenge against the permit cancellation.
Much of the community's battle was led by Green MLA Sonia Furstenau when she was a director for the Cowichan Valley Regional District.
Furstenau said she was let down by the NDP government's decision to keep the soil in place.
"Really deep disappointment with the decision that this government made," she told CFAX. "I was standing down at the lake yesterday and I was looking across to the hills to the south of Shawnigan Lake…and it's really a tale of two watersheds. You can't even walk into the Sooke Watershed. It's fenced."
Furstenau said because current wells on the site are not monitoring at the right level, no one knows the real impact the dump is having on shallow groundwater.
"For me, right there is a problem in that you're continuing with something without all of the information that you need to be able to make an informed decision," she said.
Furstenau said she still wants the province to pay the $11 million it would cost to move the soil to a site more suited to contain it.
Heyman acknowledged the long, contentious history of the soil dump and the community's years-long fight to shut it down.
"The residents in Shawnigan Lake, they never wanted this site to be in place, they never wanted it to accept contaminated soil, they fought hard," Heyman said. "We want to assure them that we're going to monitor all activity on this site."
Cobble Hill Holdings told CTV News it would support the government's decision and provided no further comment.