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Pile of tainted soil lands in driveway amid turf war

May 02 2012

A battle over the dumping of contaminated soil in the Cowichan Valley - most of it coming from Greater Victoria - has taken a disturbing turn with depositing of a truckload of dirt in a resident's driveway.

The incident prompted a heated discussion at a meeting of the Cowichan Valley Regional Board Tuesday, with one director, Loren Duncan, calling the provincial Ministry of Environment the "enemy of the people."

The problem of contaminated soil from capital region construction projects being trucked over the Malahat to forest dumping sites goes back 12 years, the directors heard. The regional district is not allowed to outlaw or even regulate the practice because it falls under the authority of the provincial Environment Ministry, said Tom Anderson, general manager of planning and development.

The district is given four days' notice that a soil relocation permit has been approved by the province, Anderson said. "At best, we're allowed to comment to the ministry, but we're not involved in the approval process whatsoever," he said.

An attempt to pass a bylaw prohibiting the transport of contaminated soil has failed to win backing from the ministry.

The driveway incident appeared to be someone sending a message to the homeowner, who had been shooting video of the soil-filled trucks going past her home. Testing showed that the soil had high sodium concentrates, and hydrocarbons from diesel and ground-up asphalt.

The matter has escalated to the point where the district must intervene, Anderson said.

Director Gerry Giles called the dumping in the resident's driveway "a totally unacceptable level of retaliation and intimidation, and I hope it is something this board does not stand for."

Director Mike Walker said the soil he has seen dumped in the valley "is so contaminated, nothing grows on it and it's been sitting there for 12 years."

Hundreds of truckloads came into the Cowichan Valley from one Victoria site where the developer won awards for his green building, Walker said. "We're going to keep fighting this," he said.

There are 11 known contaminated soil dump sites in the district, many of them in the Shawnigan water-shed, Anderson said. The Environment Ministry has been unwilling to monitor the types of contaminants being transported in the soil, he said.

"We'd probably have to follow one of those trucks back to see where they are actually coming from," Anderson said.

The number of dump trucks using south Shawnigan Lake Road is raising fears for schoolchildren and other pedestrians who use the road, he said.

Director Bruce Fraser is concerned about the number of dump sites in the headwaters of the Shawnigan watershed and called on the Environment Ministry to take action. "The Ministry of Environment has progressively retreated from responsibilities that they used to bear, such as the monitoring of soils and the monitoring of water quality," said Fraser.

The directors passed a resolution calling for the regional district to join with other local governments and request the federal and provincial governments address local concerns over the transportation of contaminated soil.

The resolution will go before the regional district board at its next meeting on May 9.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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