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Society addresses public concern over contentious Malahat projects

Environmental Assessment Office says Saanich Inlet expansion projects don’t meet threshold for review
Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau speaks at the Saanich Inlet Protection Society’s public forum at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney Friday (Feb. 17). (Austin Westphal/News Staff)

The Saanich Inlet Protection Society held a public forum at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney on Friday (Feb. 17) to discuss the Malahat Nation-owned Malahat Investment Corporation’s proposal to expand its quarry and foreshore area in Bamberton.

Society president Eric Falkenberg-Poetz said many are disappointed and frustrated with the conduct of the province’s Environmental Assessment Office, as well as the lack of public engagement on the two projects.

The society has said the foreshore-area expansion would extend 100 metres farther into the Saanich Inlet and cover 40 additional 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.

The second project, located along a steep mountainside just off the Malahat highway, involves clear cutting the area to expand a quarry operation with the intention of mining 19.5 million tonnes of rock per year over the course of 30 years — doubling its current quota.

The society – with support from the Tsartlip and Tsawout First Nations, MLAs Adam Olsen and Sonia Furstenau, Islands Trust, the Districts of Central Saanich, North Saanich, Highlands and hundreds of concerned citizens – made a formal request to the EAO to have the expansion proposals be designated as reviewable projects and therefore subject to an environmental assessment.

“We believe that the Bamberton quarry and foreshore expansion applications threaten the ecology of the eco-sensitive Saanich Inlet and the surrounding lands,” said Falkenberg-Poetz.

According to the Environmental Assessment Act, projects require an environmental assessment by the EAO and an environmental assessment certificate in order to be approved by the province to proceed.

In its Jan. 17 draft report, the EAO said the proposed projects do not meet the threshold of the Reviewable Projects Regulation to automatically require an assessment by the EAO.

“The EAO does not believe that designating the Bamberton projects as reviewable would be consistent with the purposes of the EAO,” the report said. “The EAO is confident that the regulatory framework in B.C. can address many, if not all the concerns raised for projects like those proposed at Bamberton by the proponents.”

Following a review of public input, which remains open until Feb. 21, the EAO will make a final recommendation to the minister of environment and climate change strategy, who will determine whether the quarry and foreshore expansion projects must undergo an environmental assessment.

~With Files from Robert Barron

READ MORE: Society to hold public forum on controversial Malahat projects

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Austin Westphal

About the Author: Austin Westphal

Austin Westphal is the newest member to join the Saanich News team.
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