Two land-development applications in the Bamberton area that are now before the province for consideration could have disastrous impacts on the environment and residents around Saanich Inlet, according to two citizen groups in the region.
It’s a position disputed by the proponent, Malahat Investment Corporation, who say the applications are simply adjustments to and existing permit and project.
The Saanich Inlet Protection Society and the Willis Point Community Association said in a joint news release that the environment and residents around Saanich Inlet are already being negatively impacted by the land development proposals with work that is currently being carried out by the Malahat Investment Corporation, which is owned and operated by the Malahat First Nation, even before final approval of the applications by the province.
The two groups say it’s an environmental injustice.
The first proposed project is a foreshore-area expansion that the groups say would extend 100 metres further into the Saanich Inlet and cover 25 acres of ocean, and that among the intended uses of the expanded area would be to import and export contaminated soil, the storage of hydrocarbons and for barge and vessel maintenance.
The groups say there is no mention in the application of the purpose of importing and exporting contaminated soil, or how much hydrocarbons would be stored there or the purpose of it, or if barge and vessel maintenance means derelict boats or larger ships would be anchored in the expanded acreage in the ocean.
But Josh Handysides, CAO of the Malahat Nation, said the issue is over the standard renewal of the First Nation’s water lot lease, and the MIC had requested that the water lot be renewed for the same uses and for the same area as has been in place since 1988.
He said the MIC has not applied for any new uses, and the primary shipping to and from the site is cement powder being received at the LeHigh Cement Company facility in Mill Bay.
“As part of this process, the MIC had to develop an updated environmental management plan to meet modern standards,” Handysides said.
“The shift in the boundary came about as the province wanted the water lot to cover all potential operations. Occasionally barges need to go long-wise into the shore to load and unload and this would have caused them to be outside the historic boundary.”
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Handysides said that Malahat Nation is often the first to know of any environmental concerns on the water in the area, and the First Nation responds to deal with them, including several spill incidents from vessels in the Saanich Inlet and surrounding waters already this year.
The second project being proposed by the MIC is on a steep mountainside just off the Malahat Highway and the groups say the plan is to further clear cut the area and start a quarry operation there that intends to mine a total of 9.58 million tonnes of rock over 20 years.
The citizen groups said the logging and blasting related to the project will be a source of further erosion and will greatly increase heavy truck traffic on the Malahat Highway.
They said the dust and noise pollution, already a problem from the site, will spread for many kilometres and further destroy the natural beauty of the Saanich Inlet and surrounding area.
Handysides said various mining activities on the Bamberton Lands have been ongoing on and off since the early 1900s.
He said the current mine permit was issued in 2010 and “substantial production” began in 2011.
“The MIC began the acquisition process for the site in 2015 and completed it in December of 2017, and the land clearing that was done this summer is to carry out the mining allowed under the current permit,” Handysides said.
“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. 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.”
A statement from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation acknowledged that the MIC has applied to amend its mining permit at the Bamberton Quarry, which is on land owned by the First Nation.
The statement said ministry staff continue to engage with First Nations and the public about the application and are reviewing input received to date.
“The (MIC) is in the process of responding to comments and questions from the ministry, and the application will be considered by an independent statutory decision maker within the ministry.” it said.
“In terms of public awareness of the application, the Ministry required the applicant to extend the advertisement period by including the Cowichan Valley Citizen to ensure a more comprehensive distribution to surrounding areas. An ongoing 30-day public-comment period concludes on Nov. 14.”
The ministry statement went on to say that an application from the MIC for replacement and expansion of its foreshore lease, fronting the quarry on the adjoining property, is currently under review by the Ministry of Forests and has not yet been approved.
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The statement said that currently, the foreshore lease granted to the MIC is for the purpose of “storage and shipment of non-hazardous commercial and industrial products and related small-craft moorage”.
“The land in question is already developed, and the proposed expansion area is for the seaward area,” the ministry said.
“The proposed expansion is to provide the tenure holder more area in which they can moor barges and vessels.”
But the two citizen groups said the Saanich Inlet is a delicate marine ecosystem and maintain that the quarry and the foreshore proposals could have serious negative impacts on the entire marine ecosystem and the thousands of residents living around the Saanich Inlet, and encouraged the public to voice their concerns with the applications to the province before any final decisions are made.
They said inadequate public notification and consultation has resulted in few or no questions or concerns being submitted about the proposals, and gives the impression that there is no opposition.
“It is important to note that five previous development proposals for this site, including MIC’s LNG plant, have been turned down as a result of public and government concern over the environmental impact on the land and Saanich Inlet, and yet another set of applications have been submitted that could be detrimental to the preservation of the Saanich Inlet,” the release from the groups said.
“We strongly request Bamberton Quarry Application #0800407 and Foreshore Renewal and Expansion Application Crown Land Application #0336205 be denied pending proper notification to all concerned citizens, and a well publicized public hearing be set to properly engage communities and assess the huge environmental impact of these proposals.”
Handysides said the LNG proposal did not move ahead as Malahat Nation and Steelhead LNG determined that the proposal was not a viable concept for the area, and no applications for the project were ever submitted.