Documents emerge in court hearing over conflict claims, lead Malahat chief to resign
There are new questions about a controversial contaminated soil dump near Shawnigan Lake, and whether engineering assessments used to bolster its case were independent.
The Shawnigan Residents Association has been fighting a permit issued to South Island Aggregates’ parent company Cobble Hill Holdings in BC Supreme Court. The SRA says new e-mails, released to the court by Active Earth Engineering, strengthen their concern the company was in a conflict of interest, and argue the permit should be stayed as a result.
The documents have also led Malahat First Nation Chief Michael Harry to resign Monday. One document suggested Harry was paid by the tonne for unspecified “consulting fees” related to contaminated soil brought to the company’s former quarry on Stebbings Road above Shawnigan Lake.
“The nation members are concerned, these are allegations at this point, they’re before the courts, this will all get sorted out,” said Malahat Nation CEO Lawrence Lewis.
“Michael has done what I’ve always known him to do in the three years I’ve worked for him, he’s done what is in the best interest of the nation and its citizens, he’s going to deal with this personal matter, and the nation is going to carry on doing the important work its doing in service to its people, its community and its nation building efforts.”
Lewis says councillor Tommy Harry has taken over as interim chief.
SRA spokesman Al Brunet calls the situation with Harry unfortunate, but far from the most concerning revelation in 77 pages of e-mails.
“There’s no way for us to tell whether the science is being done properly and we suspect that it isn’t,” he said.
The association went to BC Supreme earlier this year seeking a stay on SIA parent company Cobble Hill Holding’s permit to receive 100-thousand tonnes of contaminated soil a year. The community has long worried toxins could leak and pollute the lake they draw their water from.
The SRA launched the application after receiving leaked emails suggesting Active Earth, the firm Cobble Hill Holdings hired to independently assess their plans in support of the environmental permit application was involved in talks in 2013 to become a partner in the project.
Cobble Hill Holdings said those talks were abandoned after just 4 months.
The new e-mails released to the court by Active Earth show they went on much longer than that, at least until April 2014, and went as far as discussing budgets and organizing a new company, to be called South Island Remediation, for the partnership.
“There was no separation there away from the company they were doing work for, so that tends to taint the science,” said Brunet.
The conflict allegation hasn’t been proven in court.
In an e-mailed statement, Cobble Hill president Mike Kelly says he’s confident the project will be found safe.
“We appreciate the importance of the checks and balances afforded us by the legal system, and are confident that the arguments of both sides will be weighed carefully and an objective ruling will assuage all doubt as to the safety and merit of this project,” Kelly wrote.
The two sides will argue their cases in a Victoria courtroom Friday morning.