My colleague Sonia Furstenau and I have received hundreds of emails from concerned citizens living around the Saanich Inlet about the proposed expansion of the Bamberton quarry. (Learn more at https://adamolsen.ca/2022/10/public-comment-open-for-bamberton-quarry-expansion-application)
The fact that a proposal to extract 479,000 tonnes of construction aggregate each year does not require an environmental assessment is absurd. But that is exactly the case.
What is even more absurd is the loophole that as long as the operators only plan to expand the current operation by less than 50% they can continue to expand the quarry without ever having to have an environmental assessment. Under the current regulation, there will never be an accounting of the cultural and environmental loss from the grinding down of an entire mountainside.
When I asked the Minister of Environment, Hon. George Heyman, he seemed undisturbed by this fact, defensive of it in fact. Clearly, the residents and representatives need to keep the pressure on the Ministry of Environment.
As local members here know and anybody who lives around the Saanich inlet knows, it is a special place. It’s fed countless generations of my family. However, throughout the decades it’s also suffered from environmental degradation. There’s been a long history of industrial activity at the Bamberton site. As a young boy, I used to fish underneath that cement plant with my father. The cement plant closed many years ago.
Now, an operator, Malahat Investment Corporation, has applied to expand an existing quarry by approximately 47 percent. Under the Environmental Assessment Act, the Reviewable Projects Regulation does not require an existing mine to undertake an environmental assessment — and I’m paraphrasing — if the request to expand is not at least 50 percent of the previously permitted area.
This is a cultural and environmentally significant area, and there is no way to grind down an entire mountainside into construction aggregate without damaging the environment. Without an environmental assessment, we have no idea the extent of the destruction. The regulation as it currently reads is unacceptable.
To the Minister of Environment, this project may just barely fit under the regulation. Will the Minister of Environment exercise his discretion and require this mine to undergo an environmental assessment?
Hon. G. Heyman:
Thank you to the member for his question and for his concern. I’m aware of the situation. The member has correctly pointed out that the threshold in the reviewable project regulation is an expansion of area by 50 percent, and this project is 47 percent. I am in discussion with the environmental assessment office around what they know about this particular project, but the project as it is currently described falls under the threshold of a reviewable project. There has to be very sufficient reason to seek to overrule the regulation as it stands.
Member, for a supplemental.
Excellent. The minister knows, as was pointed out in court cases, that there is discretion that the minister could use to review a project. This project actually exposes an absurd loophole that exists in this regulation. In 2019, regulation was amended for new mines. Production capacity exceeding 75,000 tonnes per year now requires an environmental assessment. For context, the Bamberton application under consideration by the Ministry of Mines is to expand extraction to 479,000 tonnes. That’s 6.5 times the volume the environmental assessment considers acceptable for a new project.
If the operators apply every five years or so, like we’ve seen happening, to expand by slightly less than 50 percent of their current operation, they could literally grind down the entire side of the mountain without ever having to undertake an environmental assessment. When I asked the mines ministry if I was correct in this, they said it’s up to the Ministry of the Environment. Ask the minister.
To the Minister of Environment, will he require this application to have an environmental assessment at the Bamberton quarry, and will he change the regulation to close this absurd loophole?
Hon. G. Heyman:
The regulation itself is not currently under review. I would point out to the member that wherever a threshold level exists, there will be project proposals that come close to it. That in and of itself is not enough reason to change a regulation. As I said to the member, I’m aware of the proposed production expansion of this facility. I’m aware of how close it comes to the area expansion threshold. The member is clearly aware that the minister has discretion to order an assessment. I’ve already expressed that there has to be a good and sufficient reason to do that.
I am reviewing the facts of this case, but the member should also be aware that it is the role of the chief environmental assessment officer as the statutory decision-maker to also look at these projects. That official is doing her job and it is not my job to presume that she is not doing her job. I am being briefed by her to find out what her considerations are, and we will proceed down the path of reviewing projects that come so close to the threshold that they need a good look.