The Saanich Inlet Protection Society will be hosting a public forum on Feb. 17 on a proposal by the Malahat Investment Corporation, which is owed by Malahat Nation, to expand its quarry and foreshore area in Bamberton.
The society said the public forum, which will be held at 2:30 p.m. at the Mary Winspear Centre, 2243 Beacon Ave. in Sidney, is an opportunity for people to ask questions and to make their concerns about the planned projects known.
A statement from the society said many people are frustrated with the process at the province’s Environmental Assessment Office and the lack of public engagement on the projects.
The society has made a formal application to the EAO to have the expansion proposals be designated as reviewable projects and therefore subject to an environmental assessment.
“The society believes that the Bamberton quarry and foreshore expansion applications threaten the ecology of the eco-sensitive Saanich Inlet and the surrounding lands,” said society president Eric Falkenberg-Poetz.
The society has said the foreshore-area expansion 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.
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 the society said intends to mine 19.5 million tonnes of rock per year over 30 years, which would be double the present quota.
The EAO’s preliminary decision in their draft report to the public on the projects recommended against an environmental assessment.
The society’s statement said its request for an environmental assessment has been overwhelmingly supported by elected local governments and hundreds of concerned residents.
“Even with this remarkably high level of public interest for an environmental assessment, the EAO only held one virtual information session on Feb. 2,” the society said.
“Many members of the public who attended the VIS were disappointed and frustrated by how this meeting was conducted by the EAO. The virtual meeting format eliminated participation from anyone who wasn’t available the night of Feb. 2, as well as those who didn’t have a computer, and those who lacked the technical knowledge to use Zoom.”
In addition, the statement said, the EAO will not share their recording of the session with the public and is not offering any other opportunity to ask other questions or learn more about the potential hazards of the proposed projects.
“We have had scores of emails from people who feel the EAO’s public engagement is a joke,” said society member Maureen Alexander.
A statement from the EAO said the proposed projects do not meet the threshold of the Reviewable Projects Regulation to automatically require an assessment by the EAO, so the society has made a formal request for them be designated as a reviewable project.
Reviewable projects require an environmental assessment by the EAO and an environmental assessment certificate in order to be approved by the province to proceed.
“As part of its review, the EAO has heard from the Saanich Inlet Protection Society, First Nations, the proponent, local government and other government agencies, and has completed a draft report with a preliminary recommendation based on the input received,” the statement said.
“The EAO acknowledges the high public interest on the importance of the Saanich Inlet as a unique ecosystem. The EAO currently is seeking public feedback on its draft report and has extended the timeline to comment until Feb. 21. We encourage anyone who is interested to review the draft report and other materials on our project information web page (https://projects.eao.gov.bc.ca/p/63654a5d99a2870022a0621b/commenting) and submit a comment through the online comment form.”
The statement said that following a review of the public input, the EAO will make a final recommendation to the minister, who will determine whether or not the project must undergo an environmental assessment.