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Special Project: America's Wall: Decades-Long Struggle To Secure US-Mexico Border

Gregory Canyon Pits Water Against Trash

The new land fill proposed for Gregory Canyon in North County would be a replacement for the San Marcos landfill that closed back in 1997. Very few new landfills are being sited in California because they are so difficult to get permitted.

Gregory Canyon is east of Interstate 15 on Highway 76, next to the San Luis Rey River.

Photo by Alison St John

Army Corps of Engineers hearing on proposed Gregory Canyon landfill, at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, Jan 31st 2013.

A decades-long debate over a new landfill in North County pitted trash against water at an Army Corps of Engineers’ hearing.

About 200 people showed up to the Army Corps of Engineers' hearing to argue for and against the project that has been in the works for more than two decades.

Supporters pointed out that the public has voted for this landfill twice: in 1994 and 2004. Mike McSweeney of the Building Industry Association said the project is essential for new growth. The project developers, Gregory Canyon Ltd said it will have the most state–of-the-art landfill liner in the world -- more than 7 feet thick.

County Supervisor Bill Horn said he voted against the project, which was in his district in 2004, but after he saw the liner he changed his mind and supported it.

Supervisor Ron Roberts also supports the project, saying it will bring jobs and much needed tax revenue into the region.

But this is one place where the two ‘Roberts’ on the county board disagree. Newly elected County Supervisor Dave Roberts said people promised nuclear power plants would never leak, but San Onofre did: exactly a year ago. He, along with many opponents of the landfill, took the long view, and said the liner might last a lifetime, but that isn’t enough. The landfill will be there forever.

Gregory Canyon is next to Gregory Mountain, which is sacred to the Pala Band. Several tribal representatives spoke against the project, including Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Band, Mel Vernon of the San Luis Rey Band and Anthony Pico of Viejas. They compared filling Gregory Canyon with trash to piling it up against the walls of a church.

A number of people who testified said big changes have occurred since the early votes in 1994 and 2004. Firstly, the ways we way of disposing of trash is changing. Cal Recycle, the state’s waste disposal department, recorded 30 percent less trash thrown away in 2011 than in 2005. The need for new landfills is decreasing.

Secondly, water is becoming increasingly precious. The city that may have the most to lose is Oceanside, which sits downstream on the San Luis Rey River. The city Water Department Director, Cari Dale said the city has already spent $23 million to develop recycled ground water that now supplies 20 percent of the city’s water supply. Dale said Oceanside has plans to spend $180 million over the next 30 years to increase that to half of all the city’s drinking water. If the San Luis Rey River become polluted, that would devastate the city’s water supply.

The Army Corps will balance the declining need for a new landfill with an increasing need to protect our water supplies, before deciding whether to issue the federal permit later this year.

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