Opponents of a contaminated-soil disposal project on Vancouver Island have asked a judge to consider fresh evidence in the form of recently released e-mails, alleging the new documents show the project's backers have previously provided inaccurate information to a provincial agency.
The application, filed Aug. 6 in B.C. Supreme Court, is the most recent salvo in a battle between Cobble Hill Holdings, the company behind the project, and the Shawnigan Residents Association, a group that maintains the disposal facility could result in toxic chemicals leaching into Shawnigan Lake.
"For the residents of Shawnigan Lake itself, it's just too critical to let this go past," Shawnigan Residents Association spokesman Calvin Cook said Monday. "We are engaged in a marathon here."
The disposal site would be located near an existing rock quarry and have the capacity to accept up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year. It was issued a permit in 2013, which was upheld this past March by a decision from the Environmental Appeal Board.
In the most recent court filing, the Shawnigan Residents Association alleges recently released documents show Cobble Hill and a related company, South Island Aggregates, "failed to produce numerous relevant documents in the Environmental Appeal Board proceedings."
The documents – including e-mails between Cobble Hill and an engineering firm – were released in July as part of court proceedings related to the soil disposal facility.
That battle appeared to tilt in Cobble Hill's favour in March, when B.C.'s Environmental Appeal Board upheld the 2013 permit that authorized the company to run a soil treatment facility about five kilometres south of – and uphill from – Shawnigan Lake.
As noted in the EAB's final decision, "the Shawnigan Lake watershed is a source of drinking water for thousands of people and wildlife, and is a habitat for fish."
The hearing took 31 days and addressed issues including whether the ministry followed its consultation procedures, whether the site was suitable for the facility and whether the project, as designed, would protect the environment and human health.
The ministry upheld the permit.
In May, however, the Shawnigan Residents Association applied for judicial review of the EAB's decision, citing concerns that included the panel's refusal to hear testimony from former quarry employees about groundwater conditions at the site.
Then, in July, the residents' group filed another court action seeking an immediate halt to the project based on documents – which had been dropped off anonymously at the SRA office – that allegedly showed a secret business deal between the proponent and an engineering firm hired to do environmental assessments of the project.
"Assuming it is authentic, the profit sharing agreement was undoubtedly concealed because it places the engineers … in a direct conflict of interest whereby they were relied upon by the Ministry [of Environment] and the [Environmental Appeal] Board for scientific objectivity, but had a direct financial interest in the project and are in fact principals of the true applicant company," said the July 9 court application by the SRA.
A Cobble Hill spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment. In a July media report, Cobble Hill spokesman Mike Kelly was quoted as saying the business deal outlined in the documents was never pursued because the parties involved had changed their minds.
The residents' group alleges that is not the case, saying in its Aug. 6 court application that "new disclosure indicates that the February 14, 2013, agreement was in no respects abandoned or not in effect during the Environmental Appeal Board proceeding and even during the hearing. What has happened since has yet to be seen."
A court date for the judicial review has not been set.