Concerns over resource projects span across Saanich Inlet

The Saanich Central Council has joined critics of two resource projects off the coast of the peninsula in Saanich Bay.

Parliament unanimously passed a motion on Monday asking the provincial department responsible for minerals to delay approving any decision on mining activity around Bumbleton. The motion also calls for additional public consultation before any permits are issued, and to study and mitigate potential long-term environmental impacts.

The appeal is one of the latest to be made to provincial authorities after the Malahat Investment Corporation (MIC) submitted plans for two projects near Pemberton.

The first proposed project is the foreshore expansion, which critics say could lead to the transport and storage of contaminated soil through regional ports. The second proposed project is to expand the existing quarry, which critics say would almost double the current annual output of 250,000 tonnes.

The Saanich Inlet Protection Society (SIPS) last week asked the province to order an environmental assessment of the projects, and a statement from the Department of Environment said staff were looking at whether the project should be designated as reviewable.

SIPS President Eric Falkenberg-Poetz said the projects created what he called “significant environmental risks.”

Michael Simmons, vice president of SIPS, noted that there are concerns about the impact of the quarry expansion on water runoff into the inlet, dust from the operation and possible spillage of contaminated soil into the inlet.

SIPS noted the unique ecological nature of Saanich Inlet in its call for assessment.

The MIC earlier told Black Press Media that the first project represented a standard renewal of existing waters leases. It plans to use the waters for the same purpose and the area it has been operating since 1988. MIC staff said the proposed foreshore expansion was a response to a provincial request.

When asked about expanding the quarry, MIC also said it was amending existing mining licenses.

“The mining license amendment involves minor changes to the license boundaries to better match the geography and does include an increase in production of 239,000 tonnes of rock per year,” Malahat Nation Chief Administrative Officer Josh Handysides said in an October interview with Black news media. “Increased production from the quarry will leave the site by barge, meaning there will be no increase in traffic at the site, but an average of one or two barges per week will leave the site. The mine license also has strict dust control conditions that must be adhered to.”

Victoria University emeritus professor Verena Tunnicliffe said Saanich Inlet had unique characteristics. First, it is a very productive body of water. Other unique features include the annual cycle of oxygen depletion and renewal, as it is a naturally occurring dead zone for most of the year.

Tunnicliffe feared the proposed project would threaten the inlet’s unique ecology, later adding that the quarry expansion was just one of many threats including increased development and climate change.

The proposed project has also attracted the attention of local MLA Adam Olsen, who is concerned about the visual and environmental impact. “It will be very obvious from Brentwood Bay,” he said. “The environmental impact will be huge.”

Olson also expressed concern about the lack of public notification, which was echoed by SIPS’ Ian Cameron.

In a statement, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said the MIC was responding to the ministry’s questions and the ministry encouraged residents to send feedback.

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