The Cowichan Valley Regional District is being asked to urge the province to carry out a full environmental assessment of two controversial land-development applications in the Bamberton area that are being proposed by the Malahat Investment Corporation, which is owned and operated by the Malahat First Nation.
Maureen Alexander, a member of the Saanich Inlet Protection Society, was one of many who asked the CVRD to send a letter to the province requesting an extensive environmental assessment of the proposed expansion projects at the district’s board meeting on Dec. 14.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has recently decided to delay the approval process for both projects pending a review of the society’s request to see if an environmental assessment is warranted, and to receive more public input on the proposed projects.
Alexander made it clear at the CVRD board meeting that the SIPS supports Malahat Nation’s desire for economic prosperity.
“It’s not our intent to completely shut down operations, but to assess their environmental impacts and sustainability for future generations,” she said to the board.
The SIPS and the Willis Point Community Association said in a joint news release in October 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, even before final approval of the two applications by the province.
The first proposed project is a foreshore-area expansion that Alexander said would extend 100 metres further into the Saanich Inlet and cover 40 more 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.
Alexander said MIC’s management plan for the expansion project is very vague and concerned citizens and groups don’t know much detail about it at this stage.
“The management plan also doesn’t include any current environmental studies,” she said.
“The Saanich Inlet is in an extremely fragile state, and local MLAs, local governments, community groups and other First Nations have voiced opposition to it and are also calling for an environmental assessment to be done before they are allowed to proceed.”
Alexander said the second project being proposed by the MIC is on a steep mountainside just off the Malahat Highway and the plan is to further clear cut the area and expand a quarry operation there that intends to mine 19.5 million tonnes of rock per year over 30 years, which would be double the present quota.
“The proposal calls for the quarry to expand by 47 per cent, and that’s key because an expansion of less than 50 per cent avoids an environmental assessment,” she said.
“This is a loophole in the province’s mining application process that MIC is exploiting. With the current application spanning 30 years, the frequent expansions could turn the entire 500-acre site into a giant quarry with no environmental assessment ever being done.”
CVRD chairman Aaron Stone informed Alexander that it’s not the practice of the district to make any motions on an issue immediately after a delegation is heard, and correspondence she sent to the board will be referred to staff.
He thanked Alexander and the other speakers for sharing their concerns about the two proposals, many of which he said are shared in the district’s communities, around the Saanich Inlet and in the region in general.
Stone said the province’s environmental assessment office is well aware of the concerns being raised about the expansion proposals, and has already extended the timeline for public engagement on the two projects.
“I would continue to encourage citizens to give their input [to the EAO],” he said.
“The CVRD will continue to participate in the process when appropriate, considering our priorities and our legislative responsibilities concerning these applications and our priorities around reconciliation.”
In a letter to the environmental assessment office from Malahat Chief George Harry and his council regarding requests for an environmental assessment of the expansion projects, dated Dec. 7, Harry said the Malahat Nation has significant aboriginal interests in the area that are protected under the Constitution Act of 1982.
He said the interests include those with respect to community and economic development on the First Nation’s land, as well as lands reserved for treaty purposes.
“In considering the application at hand, the Crown has a fiduciary duty to protect Malahat Nation’s interests,” Harry said.
“The ability to use and develop our lands is incredibly important to ensure that Malahat Nation prospers now and into the future. Any compromise of our ability to carry out economic development on our lands will significantly impact nation-building efforts, the value and usability of Bamberton lands and the outcome of treaty negotiations.”
Harry concluded by saying that designating the expansion projects as reviewable by the EAO would further impact Malahat Nation’s rights and interests.
A separate letter from Malahat Nation to the EAO, also dated Dec. 7, adds that the expansion of the existing projects is in full compliance with current regulations and bylaws.
“The Saanich Inlet Protection Society ignores this and essentially asks the minister to speculate on whether or how Malahat and its companies may apply for future operations under future legislative regimes,” the letter said.
“In a particularly offensive submission, the society held itself out as the protector of indigenous cultural interests and rights when, in fact, it seeks to undermine the well being of one of the very indigenous nations it purports to protect.”