A group pushing the province to conduct an environmental review of the expansion of the quarry and foreshore lease at Bamberton is facing an uphill climb after a preliminary report from the Environmental Assessment Office recommends the project not be subject to a review.
The draft report, subject of a public comment period until Feb. 14, recommends B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman decline to designate the Bamberton aggregate quarry expansion as a reviewable project.
“We’re disappointed of course,” said Michael Simmons of the Saanich Inlet Protection Society. “To read this after we’ve been through all this, and I thought made convincing arguments, for them to decide that it’s not a reviewable project is hard to take.”
Simmons said it feels like the deck is stacked heavily against the group and others who oppose the project.
The Saanich Inlet Protection Society requested the review after the Malahat First Nation applied to expand production and size of an existing quarry on Bamberton lands, extend its dock on the Saanich Inlet, and expand a soil deposit site.
The preliminary Environmental Assessment Office report, which considered the society’s concerns, said the dock extension and soil deposit site could not be reviewed, as they are substantially underway, and recommended against reviewing the quarry.
“So now we need to convince the government,” said Simmons, noting it’s the minster that has the final say.
The draft report is not a binding decision, and a final report will be issued following the public comment period and an online public meeting on Feb. 2.
“We don’t expect [the report] is going to change very much before it goes. But it’s still just a recommendation to Minister Heyman — this is up to him,” said Simmons.
The preliminary report was developed based on the information provided by the society, the Malahat First Nation, potentially affected Indigenous nations, government ministries, the Cowichan Valley Region District and public input.
Simmons said the society believes the Environmental Assessment Office has fundamentally misunderstood what it was trying to say.
The society says it has scientific information that warns of pollution and contamination danger if the quarry is expanded.
The Bamberton projects, when grouped together, “create significant environmental risk and have not been properly assessed for their potential environmental, economic, social, cultural and health impacts on Saanich Inlet, the surrounding lands and the people who live here,” the society says.
Expansion of the quarry does not automatically trigger an environmental review as the proposed increases in size and production don’t meet the triggering threshold.
To automatically force an environmental assessment, quarry expansion plans must include both an increase of more than 50 per cent of its previously permitted size and have an annual production rate in excess of 250,000 tonnes.
According to the Environmental Assessment Office, the proposed quarry expansion would increase the disturbance area of the quarry from 39.3 ha to 39.6 ha, an expansion of 0.7 per cent. At the same time, the production capacity of the quarry would increase to 479,000 tonnes per year from 240,000.
The Malahat First Nation has said all along that the province should reject the society’s application as it does not meet the statutory requirements given the expansion applications are in compliance with existing regulations and laws.
Quarry expansion plans have also been scaled back significantly in the last three weeks.
The public can comment on the issue until Feb. 14, and the Environmental Assessment Office will run an online information session Feb. 2 between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.