In a public meeting called by San Diego County’s Department of Environmental Health last week, San Diego County 3rd District Supervisor Pam-Slater Price and other Gregory Canyon Landfill project opponents voiced strong opposition to the Revised Partial Draft Environmental Impact Report (RPDEIR) being circulated for public comment while proponents defended it.
Supervisor Price reminded board members about the history of the landfill project. “After the [landfill] proponents failed to receive approval at least 11 times from the County of San Diego, this same out-of- state corporate interests that nearly bankrupted the county with the failed trash burning plant in San Marcos put up millions of dollars to persuade voters that there is a crisis in landfill capacity. Nothing could be further from the truth!”
Price continued, “The California Waste Management Board has approved a permit for a mega-landfill in Imperial County [Mesquite Landfill] that will take waste from Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and San Diego counties. As a result, Gregory Canyon is no longer needed! The proponents seem to be depending on providing lower-cost competition for the Mesquite Landfill than providing a landfill solution for San Diego County while our communities will be saddled with tons of imported trash.”
Although initially proposed over 18 years ago, the 1,770-acre landfill project’s EIR was not certified by San Diego’s Department of Environmental Health (DEH) until February 6, 2003. A lawsuit challenging the EIR was filed by RiverWatch, the City of Oceanside and the Pala Band of Mission Indians. The court’s ruling on January 20 of this year cited serious flaws in the areas of traffic, water and mitigation open space. The director of DEH was directed and did rescind his prior action certifying the EIR.
Twelve speakers spoke in favor of approving the RPDEIR. Twenty speakers were in opposition. Given the low attendance at this forum and the potential pwhysical and personal impact that a project of this magnitude could have on hundreds of thousands of North County residents, there is apparently a lot of confidence in the Department of Environmental Health’s ability to weigh the environmental risks against the economic and financial benefits to the county of this landfill.
Those in favor of the landfill expressed they were “pro-growth” and stressed the cost in dollars and cents of transporting our trash somewhere else and the inappropriateness of doing so. They praised the quality of the liner and its ability to prevent contamination of water resources.
According to Robert Simmons, a retired University of San Diego law professor, “There is an axiom in environmental law that garbage and trash generated in one region should be disposed of in that region, not exported by trucks to other regions.” However, it should be noted that the project’s manager, Richard Chase, has adamantly refused to consider limiting the importing of trash from outside this county.
Speaking in favor of the project were former San Marcos City Councilman Jim Simmons, Matt Simmons and Jason Simmons. Jason stated, “It is a myth that Gregory Canyon will lie on top of an important source of drinking water. The fact is that the boundary of the Pala Basin aquifer lies north of the footprint of the Gregory Canyon Landfill and is not threatened by the landfill.”
Guss Pennell, representing the City of Oceanside, disagreed. “Since the late 1800s the city of Oceanside has used the San Luis Rey River basin as a source of drinking water. We plan on using it for another 1,000 years or more. We consider the landfill a threat to our municipal water supply. We hear about the seven-layer liner concept and the myth that the landfill is not on the basin. It may be separated by 50 feet but it is sitting on the side of a hill on fractured granite that flows directly north. If it leaks it goes into the basin. The idea that it is separated by an impervious wall is bogus, and everyone knows it.”
Samantha Bowman read a letter from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce stating,
“Without this project, a virtual monopoly in county waste disposal will threaten local businesses with significant increases in disposal fees.”
Land broker D. Shipley says, “I think we have a responsibility to take care of our own trash. Would you rather look at two or three thousand homes or [this dump]? If people are worried about where this trash comes from, that can be regulated. The opposition is always worried about bringing trash in from Los Angeles. I don’t think we have the right to say that we can export our trash to the desert or any other site.”
And Ash Hayes states, “Continued growth requires adequate landfills. We need to move forward with Gregory Canyon with all due haste.”
Opposition speakers addressed a multitude of environmental and health issues from hazardous waste pollution of a potable aquifer (the San Luis Rey River) to issues of air and noise pollution from the 2,085 projected daily water and garbage truck trips on Highway 76. Opponent speakers said that accidents and deaths associated with the increased traffic were immitigable costs.
Opposition to importing waste from other counties and the addition of water trucks bringing recycled water purchased from the Olivenhain Water District were topics that opposition speakers said were not adequately addressed in the RPDEIR.
Incompatibility of this landfill to the area and land mitigation inequities were brought to the board’s attention. It was pointed out that cumulative effects from other projects planned for the area, such as casino expansion and the Warner Ranch development, were conspicuously omitted from this RPDEIR.
Everett Delano, the attorney who filed suit against the county challenging the original EIR, suggested in his opening comments, “Somebody should sit back and say, ‘Whoa, enough is enough!’ Let’s not throw good money after bad, so to speak. It’s time to put a stop to this. It was a bad idea at the time and only a worse idea today. Think about what the voters actually said [about Proposition C]: ‘We are going to change the land use designation of this site.’ They still relied upon you, Mr. Erbeck, to make the right decision about the permit.”
Delano pointed out, “Times have changed, technological advances and new opportunities such as trash-by-rail and waste-to-energy are providing exciting new avenues that need to be considered before this project is done.”
Lenore Volterno, Director of the Pala Environmental Protection
Agency, addressed the immitigable location of the landfill at the base of Gregory Mountain, “a mountain considered sacred by Pala and other Luiseño tribes. No modification of this project, no mitigation to endangered species, or traffic or noise can change the fact that placing a landfill in Gregory Canyon shows disrespect for the sacred site and for the beliefs of the Luiseño people. The fact that the county has simply ignored these impacts and issued findings or statements of overriding considerations increases the insult.”
Paula Stigler from the Pala Band of Indians Environmental Department summed up her feelings about this issue, saying, “Out of respect for neighbors and fellow community members, I would never dream of dumping my trash on the steps of your places of worship, nor would I dream of leaving a pretty park, nicely landscaped, as payment for leaving my garbage at those doorsteps.” Respect for those who were here long before us, along with respect for their sacred sites, should be given. A landfill in a sacred place of worship is unacceptable.”
Mel Vernon, a member of the San Luis Rey band of Mission Indians, did not mince words. “This project appears to be a money-driven project driven by those who will profit from it.” RiverWatch President Sheila Manning contends that with the expansion of the Sycamore landfill, there is no need for this one. Allied Waste, which owns Sycamore landfill, has indicated it could be in operation for another 100 years if expanded.
Concluding her remarks concerning probable pollution and health hazards, Manning said, “The threat to human health should never be mitigable in exchange for a garbage dump.”
DEH Director Gary Erbeck pointed out that public comments can be e-mailed to [email protected] or delivered to the DEH office located at 9325 Hazard Way, San Diego, CA 92123, by 4:00 p.m. on August 24.