Greater Victoria construction boom overwhelming rural communities with excavated soil
VICTORIA -- From new homes to commercial buildings, the capital region is in the midst of a major construction boom, and the problem of where to put the soil after the foundations are dug is a concern for rural communities on South Vancouver Island.
With nowhere in Greater Victoria to put the dirt once it is excavated form the construction site, trucks are hauling it out of the region to communities like the Cowichan Valley, Shawnigan Lake, Metchosin and Sooke.
“We certainly have a large amount of development in the region and as we know the excavation has to go somewhere,” said Vancouver Island Construction Association CEO Rory Kulmala. “Where do we put this material and how do communities that are equipped to handle it accommodate that?”
The increased amount of soil being moved to rural areas is a growing issue in the Juan de Fuca region.
“We’re dealing with about 1,000 trucks a year,” said Juan de Fuca electoral district director Mike Hicks. “At the very start of the year, my planning staff were spending 75 per cent of their time just dealing with soil permits.”
In an emailed statement, the B.C. environment ministry says “current requirements for soil relocation in the Environmental Management Act (EMA) and the Contaminated Sites Regulation (CSR) provide rules for the movement of contaminated soil through ministry approval of a Contaminated Soil Relocation Agreement.”
It goes on to say that it “requires municipal governments to be notified four business days in advance of contaminated soil being relocated.”
The province says it is making changes to the regulations to prevent the improper movement of soil. “Changes include a new requirement for those moving uncontaminated soils to notify the ministry, municipality or Indigenous Nation through an online platform prior to soil relocation,” the ministry says.
The improvement will mean people who have concerns will be able to access information as it is posted and register their concerns with the appropriate authority, the province says.
“The problem is there is no real sense of a coordinated framework or plan for how to deal with literally mountains of soil,” said Cowichan Valley MLA and Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau. “What we’re seeing now is a growing level of concern amongst the residents in the areas where this soil being deposited.”
Furstenau says currently the disposal of uncontaminated soil is a patchwork of regional bylaws put in place by the municipalities. She says the province needs to put in a framework to insure that soil is disposed of consistently throughout BC.
It is a position that is echoed by the construction industry.
“Ultimately, the dialogue should start with the provincial government,” said Kulmala, “They’re the ones that set the regulations for dumping and they established the testing so I think there’s an element to start there.”
With the continued growth in the capital region resulting in more soil being transported, Furstenau says action by the province is what is needed to help local governments now.
“For local governments to get on top of this, there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of the province,” said Furstenau. “They need to bring these conversations to the table and figure out with some urgency how they are going to address this and make sure whatever mistakes are happening now don’t continue in to the future.”
If there are no uniform regulations for transporting uncontaminated soil from one region to another, the issue will continue to raise dust in rural communities on South Vancouver Island as long as the region continues to grow.