A property in the Columbia Valley continues to be a concern for neighbours, who are calling for more intervention from B.C.’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE).
A farm at 810 Iverson Rd. began drawing attention last spring when truck after truck of material was dropped off. The property’s owner, Bruce Vander Wyk, claimed it was organic waste that would be processed into compost to improve the yield of his land. Neighbours cried foul, accusing Vander Wyk of attempting to collect lucrative tipping fees by accepting garbage on his property.
They suggested the waste wasn’t organic and had the potential to leach into the aquifer that provides the community’s drinking water. Public outcry got the provincial government involved, the MOE imposed a stop-work order in October and since then, no more trucks have come to the property. The company that was working with Vander Wyk, Abbotsford-based Fraser Valley Renewables, said the stop-work order has been honoured and a closure plan has been submitted to MOE and the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) for review and approval.
But according to Taryn Dixon, elected Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) director for area H, all of the material that was brought in is still there and it’s not being properly tended to.
@GeorgeHeyman your ministry labelled this “business waste” why is it still sitting, and burning, on our aquifer? #fraservalleyrenewables @ComplianceBC #actualgarbagedump #environmentaldisaster #saveourwater pic.twitter.com/HWhAysYkGg
— Dereck (@Dereckhendo) January 10, 2023
“Thousands of tonnes of waste are sitting on top of the aquifer where we get our drinking water and that eventually enters Cultus Lake,” she said.
A picture of the material taken by the MOE confirms there is ‘foreign matter’ present in the material, meaning plastics and other things. The MOE confirmed that it “does not meet the definition of nutrient source,” and can’t be used at the site.
On Oct. 28 the MOE asked that the material be blanketed with non-permeable covers “to ensure the piles are not subject to precipitation and that the storage area is maintained to prevent runoff and solids from escaping.”
That followed an out-of-compliance advisory from Sept. 22 and a warning letter from Oct. 31.
In the most recent warning letter, the officer said FVR assured her that they had sourced and purchased impermeable covers that would be deployed Nov. 28 and 29, with work expected to take one week. Contacted this week by The Progress, FVR business development manger Simon Thorogood said they are still trying to get that done, but he called it a “weather-permitting task.”
“Safety concerns exist given the area and high winds when handling the tarps,” he noted.
Dixon said it’s not just the aquifer that’s of concern, but also air quality. She claimed there were three fires on the property over Christmas.
“Residents are concerned about contaminants leaching into our water source and now toxic fumes entering our air shed,” she said.
FVRD communications coordinator Gillian Berger confirmed that the Columbia Valley Volunteer Fire Department has attended this property several times over the past few weeks.
Thorogood said he’s aware of one fire that happened over Christmas, but he suggested it started outside the property and worked its way in to one of the piles.
“This is opposite of what we would see with an internal combustion event,” he said. “There have been additional hot spots since this, but the risk has remained low as our operators are experienced in managing such an event. As the piles have not been touched since the stop work order, this raises the risk of fire in the material. With the support of MOE we are actively breaking down this large problem pile into smaller windrows to cover and more easily manage the material until spring.”
Thorogood said he expects removal work to begin once the weather improves.
“We have submitted a closure plan to MOE and the ALC (Agricultural Land Commission) for review and approval. We are still consulting with MOE on the details of the plan but it will include ensuring that the soil meets class A requirements and removing remaining non-organic materials.”
As far as materials leaching into the soil, Thorogood cited an update that the MOE recently provided residents.
“Based on the above actions by FVR (Fraser Valley Renewables) and on the analytics of the material on site, ENV (Ministry of Environment) is satisfied that there is no reason to believe pollution is or may occur at this site. This remains an active compliance and enforcement file with staff working closely with our partner agencies including the Agricultural Land Commission. ENV will continue to be engaged until compliance is achieved.”
But Darcy Henderson, spokesperson for the Cultus, Columbia Valley Action Committee, said the MOE has not done its own independent testing of the material. Until it does, she said local residents will not be convinced the aquifer is safe and they will continue to press for a more immediate solution.