Fishery officers investigate fill material dumped on Cowichan Tribes land
Material is coming from new Cowichan hospital construction site
The federal fisheries department is investigating complaints of fill material being dumped on Cowichan Tribes land on Tzouhalem Road.
In a written statement Friday, DFO said that “Conservation and Protection (C&P) fishery officers have responded to complaints and have conducted preliminary site inspections.
“The fill appears to be placed in an area that was previously impacted through farming and other historical land development. Based on field observations to date, C&P was unable to identify direct effects on fish and fish habitat from the infilling activities.
“However, C&P has not concluded their assessment.”
The statement added: "The investigation likely won’t be completed until this winter."
Cowichan Tribes lands and self-government official Jenn George released a brief statement Friday, but did not say what the site is being prepared for.
It read: “Lulumexun, Cowichan Tribes Lands Department, has issued a Certificate of Transport for the transport and placement of clean fill to Lots 309-3 and 311 (next to 1731 Tzouhalem Road). The Certificate is valid until July 25, 2025. Signage will be in place in the coming weeks.”
On Wednesday a steady stream of dump trucks arrived with fill material, but the site appeared quiet on Thursday and Friday.
The material is coming from the new Cowichan hospital construction site on Bell McKinnon Road in North Cowichan.
Andrew Leyne, media relations for Island Health, said that organic material excavated for the new hospital was stored on land immediately to the north of the construction site.
Khowutzun Development Corporation (KDC), an arm of Cowichan Tribes, has been contracted to remove the fill.
The KDC website states: “We have been contracted by EllisDon to do the grubbing and clearing as the first phase of the Cowichan District Hospital rebuild project, and Khowutzun Forestry Services have also been brought on board to do the falling on site.”
In June, North Cowichan resident Roger Wiles brought the dumping of fill material to the attention of the Cowichan Watershed Board, saying he’d been trying for months without success to get answers on the project.
Wiles sits on the board of the Cowichan Land Trust and served on a citizens’ working group during the public consultation process on future management of North Cowichan’s 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve.
Wiles asked the board to investigate whether the dumping is permitted, whether an environmental impact assessment had been done, including into the nature of the fill, and whether any mitigation measures had been implemented.
But so far the board has not investigated.
Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum is co-chair of the board.
“There are too many issues for us to keep up with in the watershed,” said Jill Thompson, the board’s project coordinator. “It’s still on our to-do list.”
Read more: https://bitly.ws/TdUS .
Others are also expressing concern about fill material being dumped at the site, including Goetz Schuerholz, conservation ecologist and chair of the Cowichan Estuary Restoration and Conservation Association.
“The wetland under discussion has always been an integral part of the Cowichan estuarine and floodplain system which should be protected for its significant ecological value,” he said Friday.
The BC Ministry of Environment said that the Conservation Officers Service also responded to public complaints about the dumping.
In a statement Thursday, the ministry said: “The COS has received complaints of dumping along Tzouhalem Road near Duncan BC.
Conservation Officers investigated and determined the Cowichan Nation is managing this activity on Cowichan Nation Reserve Land. Conservation Officers have no further involvement in this activity.”
The DFO release continued: “Proponents who are unsure if their projects will result in harm to fish or fish habitat can check if their project needs a review by the Department, then request a review if required.
“Proponents with projects that will cause impacts on fish or fish habitat may apply to DFO for a Fisheries Act Authorization.
“At this time, the Department has not received an application to review the proposed infilling.”
The release concluded: “The proponent is well aware that they are responsible for ensuring that their works, undertakings or activities are not in violation of the habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act.”
(Photos: the Tzouhalem Road property; dump trucks removing fill from hospital construction site).
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