There is no evidence that operations at Schnitzer Steel Canada, an automotive and scrap metal recycling business that is operating in the Cowichan Valley Regional District, is contaminating the Cassidy aquifer, according to the CVRD.
In a staff report providing answers to questions asked at a public information meeting that was held in May on a controversial rezoning application that would allow Schnitzer Steel to continue its operations just south of Nanaimo Airport, staff said ground water testing at the site is regularly provided to Island Health and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
“The CVRD has been assured by Island Health that the 2020-2022 water-reporting phase at Schnitzer Steel has been monitored and not found to be negatively impacting the drinking water quality of the Cassidy aquifer,” staff said.
Schnitzer Steel added that the company submitted a study to the CVRD in 2015 to address environmental concerns about the operation and conditions of the site.
“It was reviewed by the CVRD’s environmental services division which concluded that Schnitzer has addressed all the environmental concerns leading to the issuance of a waste-stream licence, but that application for the licence is now in a holding pattern until the zoning-amendment application is resolved.”
The controversial application for rezoning of the Schnitzer site, which is located in the CVRD’s North Oyster/Diamond electoral area, was first initiated in 2016 as a result of the CVRD receiving complaints about the site, including the fact that the operation is not permitted under the current zoning of the area, and that the operation has raised aesthetic concerns and may also have environmental impacts upon the Cassidy aquifer.
The Local Government Act permits uses that were lawful when established to continue uninterrupted, so long as they retain the same scale and scope, even if the land-use regulations later remove the permitted use from the zoning bylaw.
“As well, the prospect of a possible zoning amendment to permit the use as it is today could carry an opportunity that may not otherwise exist to establish new regulations and instruments,” staff said in a previous report.
Approximately 100 people attended the public information meeting that was held in Ladysmith on May 10 and asked officials from the CVRD and Schnitzer Steel numerous questions about the site and rezoning process that would allow the operation to continue, if successful.
The information from the meeting will be used by the CVRD’s board as it makes its final decision on Schnitzer Steel’s rezoning application.
Staff presented a number of the questions and the answers in a report that was provided at the CVRD’s electoral area services committee, which was held on July 19.
Another question asked was why Schnitzer Steel was allowed to escalate its operations from a smaller auto recycler to a large metal recycler with no zoning in place to do so.
The CVRD responded that business licensing is not a function of the district, so it’s difficult to monitor the expansion of a business over time.
“Also, as the use is not presently permitted on the property under the CVRD’s zoning bylaws, the business is not able to apply for, and obtain, a waste-stream management licence, which would require the business to submit an operating plan that would stipulate how much waste can be received and would require annual reporting of water quality throughout the year,” the district said.
Asked why Schnitzer is not required to relocate to Duke Point, the nearest industrial land zoned for its operations, the CVRD responded that if this bylaw is not to proceed, then the board and the public will be provided with more information on what the next steps will be regarding the use of the site.
Tami Edwards, who attended the public information meeting, said she has no problems with Schnitzer Steel, who she indicated are good corporate citizens who participate in the community, but she does have a problem with its location on top of the Cassidy aquifer.
“We are talking about allowing an industrial practice to continue and be legitimized on top of people’s drinking water,” she said in a letter.
“In my mind, if ever the precautionary principle were to be applied, this is it.”