Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau and Environment Minister George Heyman (Black Press)

Environmental review checks for conflicts

Self-regulating a factor in Mount Polley, Shawnigan Lake

Environment Minister George Heyman has launched his promised review of “professional reliance” on engineers and other professionals who oversee safety of industrial projects in B.C.

Heyman said the issue of water contamination of the Hullcar aquifer near Vernon, a contaminated soil storage facility near Shawnigan Lake and the Mount Polley mine tailings dam failure on Quesnel Lake have eroded public confidence in B.C.’s system.

“Actions flowing from this review will help restore public confidence in government’s oversight, to ensure the public interest is protected when it comes to resource management,” Heyman said Tuesday.

He said the B.C. government has lost capacity to regulate projects after a period of engineers and other professionals being hired by project proponents to file reports. In the case of contamination of the Hullcar aquifer, B.C.’s information commissioner had to order the release of water records because information from contracted professionals was withheld as private property, Heyman said.

Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau said she was “delighted” by the commitment to the review, which will also examine if people who are monitoring a project have a financial interest in it. A court challenge of the Shawnigan Lake contaminated soil site revealed such a situation, which Heyman said is clearly a conflict of interest.

“In Shawnigan we saw firsthand how the uncertainty created by professional reliance erodes trust,” Furstenau said. “The geologists hired to assess the safety of the contaminated soil facility adjacent to our community’s drinking water had a profit-sharing deal and would have benefitted from the project going ahead.”

Heyman said the Mount Polley investigation continues, as charges against individuals are considered for the collapse of the tailings dam in August 2014.

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