If you have been in the Saanich Inlet recently, or live on its shores, you may have seen a growing quarry on the industrial site at the former Bamberton cement plant.
Adam grew up on his father’s fishing boat in the Saanich Inlet and remembers trawling past the Bamberton industrial site thousands of times. The site had been a contentious property for decades. Adam remembers the cement plant ash dusting the treetops. We both remember the multiple proposals for thousands of homes. And, of course, we remember the ill-fated floating gas liquefaction plant proposed nearly a decade ago.
Each time a large industrial or commercial proposal is introduced for the Bamberton area, there is a powerful response from the people living around the ecologically sensitive, culturally rich, and geographically unique inlet.
This fall, the property received attention yet again. The owner, Malahat Investment Corporation, has put forth a proposal to expand the existing quarry by 47 per cent. In addition, the operators have applied to expand their foreshore lease, including storage of hydrocarbons in existing tanks, and to store and treat contaminated soil.
Our ridings, Cowichan Valley and Saanich North and the Islands, fall on either side of the Saanich Inlet. We have both received hundreds of emails and calls from residents who have expressed concerns about the proposed quarry expansion. Initial public notification about the proposal was dismal. A single ad in the Goldstream Gazette in fall 2021 directed interested people to view the project documents in-person at the Mill Bay library. While the Malahat Investment Corporation met the meagre provincial requirements for public notification, it is clear that current regulations for public input are far from sufficient.
After many requests for briefings with the provincial ministries responsible for mining and the environment, we learned that the project did not require an environmental assessment under current regulations.
For existing quarries, any amendment that expands operations by 50 per cent or more is defined as a reviewable project – the application for the Bamberton site expands quarry operations by 47 per cent. Currently, operators are allowed to expand their quarry operations by slightly less than the threshold which would trigger an environmental assessment. During Question Period, Adam asked Minister of Environment George Heyman whether he is going to address this absurd loophole. Minister Heyman stated the regulation is not under review.
However, the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) is reviewing this project because the Environment Assessment Act stipulates that, “a group or person can apply to have a project designated as reviewable, even if it does not meet the established thresholds for an assessment.”
Thanks to the advocacy of many residents, specifically the efforts of the Saanich Inlet Protection Society (SIPS) – who wrote to the minister specifically asking him to review the project – the EAO will now review the request. They have posted the Bamberton project to their website https://projects.eao.gov.bc.ca/.
In their excellent submission to the EAO, SIPS clearly illustrated why the Bamberton quarry expansion should require a full environmental assessment, and why the provincial government is required to do its due diligence.
Current regulations in mines and environment limit public information and allow operators to expand their projects without the completion of an environmental assessment. Both loopholes are contrary to the spirit of good environmental stewardship and democratic engagement.
As Opposition MLAs, our role is to hold the government accountable for their decisions and represent the voices of our constituents. Therefore, we will continue to encourage the provincial government to close the loopholes that could allow for significant and adverse environmental impacts. And we will continue to urge the government to focus on effective oversight and regulation of land use in this province, and on measures that enhance good governance and public process.
Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for Cowichan Valley and Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.