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Concerns over resource projects span across Saanich Inlet

Saanich Inlet Protection Society is calling for an environmental assessment
Saanich Inlet Protection Society based in Central Saanich is concerned that two resource projects on the Malahat side of the inlet threaten the ecology of the inlet, home to a wide variety of marine animals including octopus. (Brent Cooke/Submitted)

Central Saanich council has joined the chorus of critics concerned about two resource projects on the non-Peninsula shore of Saanich Inlet.

Council Monday unanimously passed a motion that asked the provincial ministry responsible for mines to delay the approval of any decisions concerning mining activities around Bamberton. The motion also called for additional public consultations as well as study and mitigation of potential longer-term environmental impacts prior to issuance of any permits.

The appeal is one of the latest to provincial authorities after the Malahat Investment Corporation (MIC) submitted plans for two projects near Bamberton.

The first proposed project is a foreshore expansion, which critics say could lead to the shipment and storage of contaminated soils through an area port. The second proposed project would be the expansion of an existing rock quarry, which critics say could almost double the current annual production of 250,000 tons.

The Saanich Inlet Protection Society (SIPS) last week asked the province to order an environmental assessment of the projects and a statement from the ministry of environment said staff are looking into whether the project should be designated as reviewable.

Eric Falkenberg-Poetz, SIPS president, said these projects create what he called a “significant environmental risk.”

Michael Simmons, SIPS vice-chair, noted concerns about the impact of the quarry expansion on water runoff draining into the inlet as well as dust caused by the operation and the potential for contaminated soil to spill into the inlet.

SIPS is pointing to the unique ecological nature of the Saanich Inlet in its appeal for an assessment.

RELATED: Two projects proposed in Bamberton raise environmental concerns

MIC earlier told Black Press Media that the first project represents a standard renewal of an existing water lot lease. It plans to use the water lot for the same uses and the area it’s been operating in since 1988. MIC staff said the proposed foreshore expansion responds to a provincial request.

MIC also said it is amending its existing mining permit when asked about the expansion of the quarry.

“The mine-permit amendment involves minor changes to the permit boundaries to better align with geographic features and does include an increase of production of 239,000 tonnes of rock a year,” Josh Handysides, CAO of the Malahat Nation, said in an October interview with Black Press Media. “The increased production from the quarry will be leaving the site by barge, meaning no resulting increase in traffic from the site, but would mean on average a barge or two a week leaving the site. The mines permit also has strict conditions on dust control that must be adhered to.”

RELATED: Exploring the dead zone of the Saanich Inlet

Verena Tunnicliffe, professor emeritus with the University of Victoria, said the Saanich Inlet has unique characteristics. For one, it is a very productive water body. Other unique features include its annual depletion and renewal cycle of oxygen as it is a naturally occurring dead zone for most of the year.

Tunnicliffe fears that the proposed projects will threaten the inlet’s unique ecology, adding later that the quarry expansion is just one of many threats including increased development and climate change.

The proposed projects have also drawn the attention of local MLA Adam Olsen, who is concerned about the visual and environmental impacts. “It is going to be very visible from Brentwood Bay,” he said. “The environmental impact is going to be huge.”

Olsen also expressed concerns about the lack of public notification, a point echoed by SIPS’s Ian Cameron.“While legal minimums may have been respected it appears to be a deliberate attempt to obtain these permits without any open public discussion of potential environmental degradation.”

The ministry of energy, mines and low carbon innovation said in a statement that MIC is responding to questions from the ministry, which encourages residents to send their feedback.

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