A project that would have created a landfill for Squamish wood waste north of Powell River has been halted after outcry from thousands in an online petition.
But the petition’s origins are in question, as environmentalist group Save Desolation Sound said that the document falsely states it was authored by them.
At the start of the week, a petition was circulated alleging that “toxic waste” from Squamish was going to be dumped in a new landfill in the Desolation Sound area. It has gathered about 7,500 signatures as of Dec. 15.
The day before, numbered company 1265209 B.C. Ltd. announced that it was withdrawing its application for the facility immediately because of the backlash. The Ministry of Environment confirmed that statement.
Change.org credits the activist group Save Desolation Sound as the author of the petition. However, a director of the group told The Chief that the group did not create the petition nor has it taken any position on the project.
Bill Sinclair said that his organization is interested in the preservation of Desolation Sound, but has not expressed an opinion on the matter, because it has not completed its due diligence on this project.
“We’re very interested in the well-being of the area,” said Sinclair. “That being said, we haven’t taken a position.”
He said he didn’t know who created the petition.
Jeff Levine, the owner of the numbered company, told The Chief the backlash has prompted him to stop the project, even though he considers the allegations to be incorrect.
“There was never any intention ever to put any type of toxic waste in Desolation Sound, or any other place. There is no toxic waste anywhere. This is material that is a wood byproduct of small mill sites,” said Levine.
“If you don’t agree with the industrialization of an area, that’s one thing to disagree with, but don’t try to turn someone into [an] environmental monster that’s going to dump hazardous waste on land and ocean and negatively affect people, because those are two different things.... I was guided by the Ministry of Environment by this process, and I followed the process.”
This endeavour aimed to create a landfill at 14445 Sarah Point Road that would’ve received 375,000 cubic metres of industrial wood waste over 15 months, according to an environmental protection notice issued by Levine to the qathet Regional District.
Operating hours would’ve been 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week.
The landfill waste would consist of sawdust, wood chips, hog fuel, end cuts of wood less than one metre in length, dredgings of wood waste, sand, gravel, rocks, inert waste and inert cover material, the notice said.
The Ministry of Environment said the waste would be from an old sawmill site located in Squamish that was closed 30 to 40 years ago.
The land on which the sawmill was operated and where the waste was coming from was issued a certificate of compliance and is pending redevelopment, the ministry said.
Levine said he cancelled the project because he anticipated it would be tied up in court for years, and he wasn’t willing to spend the time or money that it might take to see it to the end.
“Unfortunately, in today’s society, there’s too many [of] what you call community scientists who think they know things but they really don’t,” he said. “And perception, unfortunately, is reality.”
He said he started the project with the hope of attracting business throughout the Sea to Sky and the Lower Mainland.
The dumping of wood waste is being discouraged in many places, he said, as it renders the land not developable, because the material continually sinks. Buildings cannot be constructed on areas where wood waste was dumped, he said.
District of Squamish staff told The Chief that the District is not banning wood waste from being disposed of in town, but determined in 2017 that municipal land would no longer be leased for wood waste disposal, and that wood waste landfill on District property will be phased out by 2022.
As a result, Levine created a company and offered up land that he bought in Desolation Sound as a dumping spot for local businesses seeking to get rid of their wood waste.
He said he was hoping to attract the business of the SEAandSKY Bosa-Kingswood project on the Waterfront, which has been looking for a contractor to take the wood waste, as the area was previously the old Interfor mill site.
However, Levine hadn’t signed a deal with the company, as the province had yet to approve his project.
A Bosa spokesperson confirmed that the company has not hired Levine.
One of the key allegations of the petition is that the landfill waste will contain, among other things, an unacceptable amount of toluene.
This substance is used in paints, lacquers, thinners, glues, correction fluid, and nail polish remover, among other things.
“Toluene can cause irritated eyes, nose, and throat; dry or cracked skin; headache, dizziness, feeling of being drunk, confusion and anxiety,” according to the United States Department of Labour.
However, Keystone Environmental, the environmental consultants Levine hired for the project, said that before anything would be dumped at the site, samples would be tested to see if the waste material meets environmental standards.
“The numerical standards within the BC Contaminated Sites Regulation indicate that at the specified concentration, there is no observed effect to human health and environment over an exposure period of 70 years,” reads a letter signed by Raminder Grewal, president of the company.
“Material that does not meet applicable CSR standards will not be accepted for deposit at the site.”
Grewal added that samples would need to demonstrate toluene in the material is naturally-occurring before being accepted at the landfill.
“Numerous studies have been completed to confirm that toluene can be produced naturally within pristine environments,” he wrote.