The BC Ministry of Mines continues to market the Quinsam Coal mine site after its bankruptcy in 2019 | Submitted photo
Campbell River Environmental Committee lists its current top priorities
BY GUEST WRITER
Given the number and variety of government and commercial projects with the potential for negative environmental impacts these days, it’s difficult for any individual to stay informed.
But for the last 40 years, the Campbell River Environmental Committee has taken on the burden of informing the public about current and future environmental risks. And it has promoted environmental awareness among businesses, local government and the general public to make informed decisions.
The CREC’s current priorities include siting of a compost facility near residences, the hazards of biosolids, changes at a gravel pit that may impact Campbell River’s drinking water, provincial marketing of the defunct Quinsam Coal mine whose waste pollutes the Quinsam and Campbell rivers.
They are also concerned about tailings from the Myra Falls mine flowing into Buttle Lake and new activities on the former pulp and paper mill property.
PROPOSED COMPOST FACILITY
The Comox Valley Regional District has applied to the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to construct a compost facility on land next to the Campbell River Landfill. The application falls under the authority of the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board (CSWMB). The facility will take organics from the municipalities. BC government guidelines for compost facilities suggest setbacks from residences at 400 to 1000 meters from a residence. The CSWMB considered two sites, one 500 meters from residences and the other less than 300 meters from a residence. The CSWMB made the decision to construct this new facility where a home and family are within 300 meters.
Staff and their consultants are confident that odour (which carries airborne emissions including Volatile Organic Compounds) will be contained. CREC’s research of compost facilities existing in other locations has odour complaints from homeowners living 350 to 500 meters from composting operations.
Another issue in the composting process is possible fires. At this site beside the Campbell River Landfill, the absence of hydrants and a sprinkler system is a concern for fire suppression. This is a heavily forested area. Should a fire reach the crowns of the large trees, it could head to the neighbours or burn northeast to Elk Falls Park. Interesting to note there will be a fee on property taxes for the compost service to homeowners of Courtenay, Comox, Cumberland and Campbell River. Tell your local government and the MOE what you think.
CREC is concerned about the practice of spreading biosolids on forestry lands and for closure cover of mines and landfills. Important to note – the disposal of this end product from the municipal sewage system has many applications including to Agricultural Land Reserve farm land and in general is regarded as a fertilizer and a soil builder.
We are especially concerned about the lack of testing for substances found in biosolids such as pharmaceuticals, steroids, hormones and PFAS (Per-and Polyfluorinated Alkyl substances), also known as the “Forever Chemicals”, as documented in the November 15, 2018 EPA study titled, “Office of Inspector General-EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment.”
If you walk through a hardware store be aware that every liquid on their shelves could potentially find its way into the sewer system and therefore show up in biosolids. A similar walk-through any drugstore will remind you that pharmaceuticals and chemicals sold there might also become a part of biosolids.
When applied to fields and gardens, biosolids can show up in our food supply, water supply and in some cases become airborne.
CREC has been researching biosolids for the past year and has learned from numerous university and government agencies studies that biosolids can be hazardous to humans, the environment and wildlife.
UPLAND SAND AND GRAVEL PIT
It is safe to say nearly every community has or will have to deal with an exhausted porous gravel pit. The options are limited; face the costly closure and reclamation or, the most popular option for the owner, fill it with waste and collect landfill tipping fees. The Ministry of Environment permitted a landfill in the gravel pit adjacent to McIvor Lake (which flows to Campbell River’s drinking water intake).
At this point, the City of Campbell River retains zoning control of the site. However, Upland submitted a new mine application to the Ministry of Mines and – if the mine plan is approved- the City’s zoning may cease to apply to the site.
CREC’s focus of concern at this site is the possible effect of the proposed landfill leachate on Campbell River’s drinking water and the associated aquifers. Those aquifers feed local streams including Cold Creek which is the source of the Quinsam River Hatchery’s groundwater for Salmonid incubation. Our second focus is finding a reason for the unexplained higher-than-normal heavy metal concentrations sampled from the bottom of Rico Lake, which flows into McIvor Lake, and is adjacent to the permitted landfill and the mine application.
The Quinsam Coal Mine (QC) opened in 1986. Following an extensive public inquiry, the inquiry chairman declared that “the Quinsam River and its watershed are very sensitive to environmental damage” and “A properly designed and implemented mining plan should virtually assure the prevention of the formation of acid waters.”
Operations went from an open pit to an underground coal mine in the early 1990’s. After QC reported elevated sulphate levels in Long Lake, CREC enlisted the expertise of Dr. William Cullen of the Canadian Watershed Network. His research found high levels of arsenic and other metals in the sediment of Long Lake due to seepage from the companies underground 2 South Mine.
As a result, QC was required to collect and treat the seepage.
Acid rock drainage which generates acid leachate enters the groundwater: this leachate problem has no end date. QC declared bankruptcy in 2019. Nearly two years later, the Ministry of Mines continues to market this mine site. The water from this mine site flows into the Quinsam River to the Campbell River. Both rivers are jewels of the community and have high value as commercial and recreational assets.
After 14 years of annual meetings, the public annual Environmental Technical Review Committee meeting for 2020 was canceled by the Ministry of Mines, despite the ease and availability to meet electronically. A skeleton crew remains at the mine, sampling and producing reports which CREC receives.
The Myra Falls polymetallic mine is “Of interest” to the CREC as it is the only mine in British Columbia situated in a Provincial Park.
With the mine operation start up in 1966, the tailings were dumped directly into Buttle Lake at the mouth of Myra Creek. This practice was halted in 1984. Subsequent mine tailings were stored behind a berm in a tailings pond.
As of January 2021, the berm of this tailing pond was 43 meters high (142 ft or 14 stories in height). The rise (or increase) for the 2021 season April – September will be 5 meters. The plan for this tailings pond is a maximum height of 57 meters (188 ft). At this planned maximum height this berm will be the physical barrier for 1.5 million cubic meters of tailings.
CREC has been advised that the tailings pond is well constructed to safely contain 1.7 million cubic meters. In comparison, the 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach devastated Hazeltine Creek with 25 million cubic meters flowing into Quesnel Lake. A concern unique to the Myra Falls location is the excessive amount of water flowing off the mountain above the mine; this flow must be controlled and managed.
A high priority and ongoing challenge at this mine is the management of the volume and the quality of water Trafigura (the operators) release into Buttle Lake. An aside – in 1988, a second mine was proposed for Strathcona Park; this time a silver mine at Cream Lake. In response, residents of both Campbell River and Comox Valley formed a blockade and 64 people were arrested. This was the first time in Canadian history anyone was jailed for protecting a park.
Discovery Park occupies the site of the former Catalyst pulp and paper mill. The owners of this site, Rockyview Resources, are looking for income-generating opportunities. The Ministry of Environment approved an expansion to the landfill in 2018.
The recent extensive improvements to Discovery Park’s leachate capture, monitoring wells and treatment system makes this industrial site suitable for an expansion to their existing landfill. This has been an industrial site since 1952 when the pulp and paper mill started. Based on the science and the fact that the drainage is away from residences, CREC does not oppose the application currently before the City for landfill zoning.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE CREC
CREC is a non-profit society, which began in the early 1970s, working on environmental issues in the Campbell River area. Our mandate is to collaborate with governments, organizations and the public for the best environmental outcome. Our focus is the water, especially the protection, security and safety of drinking water. Our approach is science-based, factual research. We make effort to leave the emotional content at the door – and work with the best science.
CREC members contribute to community committees providing oversight, advice and planning. CREC is a member of the BC Mining Law Reform Network. In community service, we become involved in a broad range of activities: site visits to industrial operations; writing letters and reports; meeting with all levels of government; working with hydrologists, geoscientists, and forestry professionals.
On the community side, CREC meets with multiple stakeholders in the stewardship and the protection of our watersheds.
We are a non-profit, 100 percent volunteer Society. We are always looking for like-minded individuals to join us in the stewardship of our watersheds. When you have the time or the sudden urge to join us, find CREC online on Facebook or at our website. Or, we can be reach via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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