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Trash Talk

An image of the proposed Gregory Canyon landfill.

Credit: Courtesy of Gregory Canyon Ltd.

Above: An image of the proposed Gregory Canyon landfill.


The debate continues over a hotly contested landfill proposed for North County's Gregory Canyon. We'll hear the latest details.

Public Meeting

San Diego County's Department of Environmental Health will hold a meeting at the Fallbrook Library, on Wednesday Feb. 23 at 6:30, to listen to public input on the Gregory Canyon Landfill.

San Diego County Department of Environmental Health will hold a meeting at the Fallbrook Library, on Wednesday Feb. 23 at 6:30, to listen to public input on the Gregory Canyon Landfill.

A public information meeting will be held tonight in the ongoing effort to get a landfill built at the North county site of Gregory Canyon. San Diego County voters originally approved the landfill location back in 1994…but obtaining required permits, conducting studies and defending lawsuits - has delayed construction at the site. The North county location is fiercely opposed by members of the Pala Indian tribe, who's land is adjacent to the proposed landfill. The Gregory Canyon Landfill would also be situated near the San Luis Rey River prompting concerns over both ground and water contamination.

The permitting process for the landfill is moving forward but the issue is still deeply contentious. The public hearing tonight at the new Fallbrook library is expected to be well-attended and we'll get a preview of some of the arguments.


Nancy Chase is a spokeswoman for Gregory Canyon Limited, the developer of the proposed landfill.

Shasta Gaughen is the Environmental Director for the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, coming up on These Days, beating the BYU coopers is always a challenge for the Aztecs, but this time, SDSU is at home and on fire. We'll hear why a win this weekend could give the Aztecs a major boost into March madness. But first, the debate continues over a hotly contested landfill proposed for North County's Gregory canyon. And a group of business and green energy researchers form to make the San Diego electric car friendly. That's all ahead this hour on These Days of the first the news.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and You're listening to These Days on KPBS. A public information meeting will be held tonight in the ongoing effort to get a landfill built in the North County site of Gregory Canyon. San Diego County voters originally approved the landfill location back in 1994, but obtaining required permits, conducts studies, and defending lawsuits has delayed construction at the site. The North County location is opposed by members of the Pala Indian tribe, whose land is adjacent to the proposed Rand fill, the Gregory canyon landfill would also be situated near the San Luis Rey River, prompting concerns over both ground and water precipitation. The permitting process are for the landfill is moving forward, but the issue is still deeply contentious. That public information hearing tonight at the new Fallbrook library is expected to be well attended, and we'll get a preview of some of the arguments this morning from my guests. Nancy Chase is spokeswoman for Gregory Canyon Limited, developer of the proposed landfill at Gregory Canyon. Good morning.

CHASE: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Shasta Gaughen is environmental director for the Pala Band of Missions Indians. Shasta, good morning. Thanks for coming in.

GAUGHEN: Thanks, Maureen. Happy to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now we invited a representative the San Diego County's department of environmental health. But they declined the offer, they said it would be inappropriate to discuss the pros and cons of the landfill project because that agency is now in the position of having to make the decision about whether the permit should be approved. Let me start with you, Nancy. Give us a little bit of the back story. How was Gregory Canyon identified at as the location for this North County landfill?

CHASE: Yes, Maureen. Gregory canyon was one of a number of sites for the new land fill in North County selected by the county of San Diego more than 20 years ago. And in that process, a number of sites were eliminated, and a number were considered, and one of them was Gregory canyon. The board never was able to make a decision on finding a new land fill. And it was at that time that the developers of Gregory canyon decided that they would develop it privately. So it was put on the ballot as a land use amendment to change the land use in 1994 as you duly noted. It won county wide, every area of the county, with 68 percent of the vote. The only place it did not succeed was in Fallbrook at 48 percent of the vote. But it won in every psychiatric, every assembly, state senate, supervisorial, etc., district throughout the county.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Excuse me, but since that time, you've been going through the process of getting the required permits and the environmental studies and so forth, but this landfill project has been under development for the last 17 years, I'm wondering, is that time frame unusual?

CHASE: Actually no, Maureen. Back when the state had a California integrated waste management board, which no longer exists under governor Schwarzenegger, but they had their website declared that the average length of time to develop a new land fill in California was 15 years. Now, 15 years to 17 years issue not such a big difference. And you also, if you compare it to other large needed infrastructure projects in our region alone, Poseidon resources trying to develop a desal plant, Highway 241 trying to develop a new toll road, they're all pushing 20 years. Unfortunately, because of opposition and legal -- you know, lawsuits, these things take a long time. But developers don't want get into them without knowing that.


CHASE: So it is a couple years longer than we expected, but it's not outrageously longer.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me talk to Shasta Gaughen about some of the opposition, that has been filing lawsuits and trying to stop the Gregory canyon landfill from being built. Why is the Pala tribe opposed to this landfill project?

GAUGHEN: Well, Maureen first I'd like to make the point that it's taken 17 years for the landfill developers to work on these permits because this is not an inappropriate site for a landfill. If therapy the right site from an environmental perspective, then they probably would have gotten their permits and been able to move forward a long time ago. But those environmental impacts are one of the reasons that Pala and our whole coalition of opposition against this landfill have banded together to stop this site fair landfill location. And the issue here isn't that there is a need, necessarily, for a place to put San Diego County's trash, it's that this is not the right site to put that trash. We have plenty of capacity remaining in the county's current landfills, the sycamore landfill, Mira Mar, and the newly approved Otay landfill have more than enough capacity for all of the trash in San Diego for years to come. And there are endangered species in the Gregory canyon landfill that would be impacted by this, there is water that is underneath the landfill footprint, fractured bed rock aquifer that provides drinking water for not only the Pala community, but for several down stream communities including the city of Oceanside. So there's 50000 people or more that would be impacted by the potential pollution caused by a landfill in this location.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And let me, if I may, too, highlight one of the cultural reasons that the Pala tribe is opposed to this landfill, and that is the significance of Gregory mountain. Tell us about that. What is the significance to the Pala tribe.

GAUGHEN: Well, not only to the Pala tribe but to all of the Luiseño people in San Diego County and Riverside County as well. The Luiseño people find that Gregory Mountain is a sacred spot. They call it Chocla, and Chocla is the resting place of an important spiritual figure called Takwish. And Takwish has rested on the mountain, and he plays an important role in the spiritual and religious lives of the people. So not only is the mountain sacred, but the river as it connects to the mountain is also a part of that sacred site, and also in the anthropological literature, and in the stories of the living people today, they talk about the rituals and ceremonies that have taken place on that mountain, and at medicine rock, which is only about 500 feet from where the landfill would be built. That site has petroglyphs on it, pictographs, extensive archeological resources, and the landfill would desecrate that site.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nancy, let me take you down some of the objections that Shasta has raised. And let's talk about the -- what the landfill might do or might not do to contaminate the ground or surface water. What kinds of precautions are you taking to try to make sure that that doesn't happen?

CHASE: Well, Maureen, Gregory canyon has developed the most state of the art liner and monitoring system that will ever have been built in a landfill any place in the country. Possibly the world. Landfills were only lined about 20 years ago, so the existing landfills in San Diego, sycamore and Otay and Mira Mar, are only partially lined. So this will be the safest, most environmentally sound landfill ever. It's a triple composite liner system with a monitoring system underneath the liner system, that is designed to catch any possible yet unlikely leaks. That might occur. And if a leak likely were to occur, which is very unlikely, the monitoring system would pick it up immediately, and shut down that portion of the landfill, and capture it until it can be -- until it can be rectified. So the argument that we are, you know, possibly taint the water is not scientific.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Has this triple liner been used anywhere else? Or is this the first time?

CHASE: Is this will be the first time. Most landfills, the parts of landfills that are lined is a sandwich composite liner system. And I would challenge you to come up with a landfill in San Diego County that we know of, that has leaked or caused a problem, and I might also note that all land fills are in canyons. Of all canyons are near rivers, the can job creates, actually, a natural bathtub, which is perfect for disposal of solid waste.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to get -- I want to let Shasta have an opportunity to respond. You sound as if you don't have much faith in this triple liner.

GAUGHEN: Well, this may be the most state of the art liner that has been so far proposed, but I think that's probably been said of every landfill groundwater protection system that's ever been implemented. And as the EPA has stated, multiple times, there is never been a landfill liner that hasn't leaked. And the idea that all landfills are built in canyons, I don't know how familiar people are with the Mira Mar landfill, but as far as I can tell, that is not a canyon, and it's not next to a river. And the issue of the water contamination, the most effective way to prevent groundwater contamination is not to build a landfill over groundwater or near groundwater or on the banks of a major river that supplies drinking water to San Diego County resident. So no matter how thick your liner will be, it may not leak in five years or 10 years or 30 years, but it will eventually leak.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, go ahead.

CHASE: Can I respond to that? Yeah, Mira Mar is not built in a canyon. It is an exception. But rather than going, you know, tit for tat, I think that the major messages, the developers of Gregory canyon landfill are responsible developers, have used the best state of the art technology, the best engineers, the best of every trade that's involved in developing a landfill. And certainly only want to develop the most environmentally sound landfill that's ever existed. That's in our interests, it's in the county's interests, it's in the voters' interest, and providing a place for North County trash is very important. North County trash goes everywhere but North County.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to get into that a little bit more but we have a caller on the line, Nancy, if we could. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Nathaniel is calling from Mesa College. Good morning, Nathaniel, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning, thank you for taking my call. I'd really like to point out something. This debate has been going on for 20 years. And 17 years in the process of trying to install this development. The climate has changed. Americans in particular are coming to the realization that our environment is more important to us than the economic gain from developers. And also the convenience of putting North County's trash into North County. If we contaminate our groundwater, we know for a fact that down the line, we pay for that. No matter how much money a developer makes from it today, tomorrow, or next year, we, the citizens who live here, pay for you gaining money from developing something in a spot that has been shown to be way too high of a risk. You can't build things that put toxic waste, or just normal garbage into our water table.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nathaniel, thank you for the call. Let me get a response, if I can, to your concern. Of and also, I think, the larger issue of Nathaniel's question is that the 20 years since the -- this has been approved, there's been a lot more recycling, a lot more ways of technologically dealing with trash than burying it in a landfill. Shasta, is that one of the issues that you have about the Gregory canyon rapid fill, that perhaps there are alternatives now that didn't exist back in 1994?

GAUGHEN: There are absolutely alternatives that exist. At that time that the 1994 proposition was on the ballot, what the land fill proponents were saying was that we were gonna run out of landfill space by the year 2000, and be buried in mountains of trash, and clearly that hasn't -- hasn't happened, and I want to point out that over the last five years, San Diego's waste stream has been reduced by 25 percent, and it continues to get lower. Things have changed in terms of where the trash goes, it goes to transfer stations, it's sorted, recyclables are taken out, much less waste actually needs to be disposed of, and there are new technologies such as waste to energy conversion. And the California state cal recycle is now man dating that up to 60 percent, I believe it's 60 percent, of all organics need to be taken out of the waste stream, and that's going to reduce the need for landfill capacity further. So certainly, now, technology is catching up with our need for waste disposal, and landfilling is an obsolete technology.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me get your response to that, Nancy, that it is an obsolete technology.

CHASE: Well, my response is, Maureen, if -- yes, there are people who believe we can get to 0 waste and have no landfills. Unfortunately landfills are the kind of entity that nobody wants. No matter how much recycling, no matter how many transfer stations are developed, no matter how many other alternatives there are, there will always be a need for landfills. So far one of the things I'd like to point out to Nathaniel is actually, the environmental impact of the transportation of trash, land distances, is far greater than any risk to a possible drop of water escaping from a landfill. Of the biggest -- the biggest cost of trash both environmentally and financially is transportation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And where -- how is North County trash -- is it transported nought.

CHASE: Yes, North County trash is going to Orange County, which started taking it when it was in its bankruptcy days, those days are numbered, they're not gonna continue out of county trash for much longer. It's going to Arizona, it's going to sycamore and some of it is going to Otay. So it is going every place but North County. North County hasn't had a landfill since the closure of San Marcos. And regarding trash to energy, that was something that was mentioned, again you have to take a very long view of developing these large infrastructure projects. There is certainly a place for and possibly a need for trash to energy, and it has been attempted here in San Diego County in the past. It will take at least 20 years to develop such a project because of the very types of opposition that you're hearing now. The people who focus on issues that aren't really factual, and or they're emotional, and cause these projects to take much longer than they naturally should have.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nancy, let me ask you, what is the significance of tonight's meeting in this ongoing permitting process?

CHASE: Yeah, thank you, Maureen. Actually, tonight's meeting has been held before. Woo have had our solid waste permits in the past, and due to various lawsuits, etc, are the permit had to be reinstated. Tonight's meeting is a public information hearing held by develop of environmental health who will simply listen to comments, there will be no decision tonight, there will be no back and forth, it's simply an opportunity for the public to express its, you know, support or opposition, so it's very much part of the process, it's actually you know, a required part of the process of issuing or reissuing, in this case, the permit.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me be clear, though, so if you do get this permit, what other barriers are in your way?

CHASE: I prefer to call them challenges.


CHASE: We are in the process of finalizing the air pollution control district permit, which is the [CHECK] permit. We're in the final 60s days of that. We are in the process of the regional water quality control permit. Sometime in the next 2 to 3 months. And those'll be the last two permits in this -- in the county's regard, and then we have the army corps of engineer process that we're going through, and we're expecting to be going through that, and excreting that process sometime in the third quarter of this year.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Shasta, in addition to what I suppose you're expecting to be a good turn out tonight of the people who are opposed to the landfill. Where are you in your opposition to this? Are you in the process of filing lawsuits or defending or pursuing lawsuits in.

GAUGHEN: Right now, there is no current litigation over any of these permits. We are at the point of essentially trying to show these agencies that permitting this landfill is not the right move to make. And so, of course, tonight's meeting, and Nancy is correct, it's an informational meeting where the public has an opportunity to make their voices heard about this. Of course we want to encourage them not to issue this particular permit, the solid waste permit because the county process, had it been followed instead of having the initiative in 1994, would never have permitted this landfill in the first place. And so we think that the county still needs to do their due diligence as far as that permit is concerned and deny it. If it does get approved at the county level, it still needs to go to the state to cal recycle, and at that point, they will either concur with the county recommendation or they will choose not to issue the permit at that point or approve the permit at that point. And I want to get to the army corps permit as well. We had well over 300 people at the meeting for the army permit last year in June last year in San Marcos, and we expect a similar turn out of our supporters against the landfill tonight. And the Army Corps, that permit is at a national level, and getting back to the issue of truck trips.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have to stop there.

GAUGHEN: Oh, okay.


CHASE: One word --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Actually, no, Nancy, we're just up against the clock here, but I tell you, I think we've gotten people interested in perhaps attending this meeting tonight. Let me tell you, the San Diego develop of environmental health will hold a meeting at the Fallbrook library tonight at 630 to listen to public input, to listen as the agency makes a decision for the permit process on the Gregory canyon landfill. Information about the meeting is also on our website, but that's 630 tonight at the Fallbrook library. Thank you so much, and I'm sorry we're out of time.

GAUGHEN: Thank you, Maureen.

CHASE: Thanks, Maureen. Bye-bye.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If you would like to comment, please go on-line, Days. Coming up, Aztecs versus cougars, we'll get a preview of this weekend's big game, as we continue here on These Days on KPBS.

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