Highlands residents worry for their water

Residents of the District of Highlands (the area encompassing Bear Mountain to Mackenzie Bight, and more) are raising concerns over the dumping of sediment from the Esquimalt Graving Dock (EGD) in the Highwest Waste Recyclers facility in the Highlands.

Tervita, a North American environmental and energy services company, purchased the Highwest Recyclers Waste facility on July 1, 2011 and the province announced March 28, 2013, they had been awarded the $38.6-million contract for cleaning up the Esquimalt Graving Dock water lot. The graving dock has been used for maintenance and repairs on military and civilian boats since 1927. The sediment in the seabed around the facility is contaminated. The work on the water lot is meant to clean up the area to match federal and provincial environmental standards.

The transport and disposal of contaminated sediment and debris from the graving dock has residents of the Highlands—with the support of the Council of Canadians—questioning the safety of their groundwater. Ted Woynillowicz, a member of the Victoria chapter of the Council of Canadians and co-chair of the Highland Residents for Clean Water group, says, “It’s kind of over an aquifer. So the Highlands residents are really concerned that this may leach into the soil and eventually into some aquifers, contaminating water areas near there. If it doesn’t percolate down into the aquifers, it can certainly overflow the banks with heavy rains. It can also actually run along the ground downhill into those areas.”

Tervita did not comment in time for publication. However, in an email, a media representative for the corporation wrote that the sediment from the Esquimalt Graving dock is not toxic and is classified as contaminated soil due to the site operations as well as high sodium and chloride content from being dredged from the ocean. They also said, “The Highwest landfill constructed fully lined landfill cells with a composite liner system consisting of a 60-millimetre, high-density polyethylene liner and a geo-synthetic clay liner for the EGD project. All soils from the EGD project were managed within the footprint of the landfill. The landfill also has a comprehensive water collection system that transports surface water that comes in contact with the waste to a central collection point where it is collected, treated and transported off site to waste water treatment plants.”

Some Highlands residents feel there hasn’t been enough monitoring done on the site, and that there was no public consultation. Although Woynillowicz says residents were given a tour of the Highwest Recyclers Waste facility, he felt it was a controlled tour with no pictures allowed and little time to ask questions. “What we’d like to do is have a third party evaluation of the whole system,” says Woynillowicz.

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