Thursday, January 31, 2013
Thursday night, the Federal Army Corps of Engineers holds a public meeting in Escondido to gage public opinion on plans to build a new landfill in Gregory Canyon. The debate over this dump has gone on for 20 years, but the private company that wants to build the landfill has not yet buried the opposition.
Gregory Canyon Limited has invested almost $67 million so far to get a new landfill opened in North County. Spokeswoman Nancy Chase says the project has been in the works so long that some people assume it already exists.
“We get calls all the time, saying, ‘What are your hours, when can I bring my trash?’“ she said, “Many people who have voted on this twice think it’s already done.“
Gregory Canyon won voter support in initiatives in 1994 and again 2004, but the landfill still doesn’t have all its permits. The County and the State of California approved permits in 2011, saying the project could result in significant environmental impacts that cannot be substantially mitigated, but the benefits outweighed the harm.
This week’s hearing is another significant step, because without a federal permit from the Army Corps, the project cannot go forward.
Chase will be one of many people expected to speak at the meeting tonight to consider the Army Corps of Engineers’ draft environmental impact report.
“Basically we’ll say what we’ve said for the last 20 years, “ Chase said. “That this is the safest, most environmentally sound landfill that will ever be developed, that it’s a needed piece of infrastructure, privately funded, and will serve the citizens of north San Diego county in a more environmentally sounds and less expensive way to get rid of their trash.
The long debated Gregory Canyon Landfill needs a federal permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to move forward. The public has a chance to weigh in at an Army Corps hearing tonight
The site of the proposed Gregory Canyon landfill is in the hills east of Interstate 15 north of Escondido. The plan is to truck in a million tons of trash every year for 30 years and build the landfill in a canyon just south of Highway 76, on the flanks of Gregory Mountain.
Immediately to the east is the Pala Reservation. Shasta Gaughen, head of Pala’s Environmental Protection Agency, points to the rock strewn mountain side.
“This is Gregory Mountain that the Luiseno people call chokla,“ she said, “and the entire mountain from top to bottom is sacred.“
The Pala Band has spent millions to try to stop the landfill.
“It is a cultural and environmental issue,” Gaughen said, “and for tribes it’s hard to separate the two. ‘Pala’ is the Luiseno word for ‘water.’ Water is sacred to the tribe: water is sacred to all people because it’s necessary for life.”
Water is also the key issue for the Army Corps, because it monitors US waterways. The San Luis Rey River flows though the valley at the foot of Gregory Canyon and the project will involve building a bridge over the river.
Attorney Everett DeLano represents one of several environmental groups that oppose the project, Riverwatch.
“There will be over 400,00 gallons a year of leachate, as well as gasses - those are the pollutants that come off landfills.” Delano said, “The potential is for them to pollute the aquifers and the drinking water of literally hundreds of thousands of people.”
Native Americans use ground wells in the region, and the City of Oceanside uses groundwater from the San Luis Rey River for 20 percent of its water supply.
But Nancy Chase with Gregory Canyon Ltd said the landfill is not actually on the aquifer, and in any case, it will have the world’s most state of art landfill liner.
In the company’s San Marcos office, she stands beside a column that reaches from the floor to above her head, and represents the bands of material in the liner.
“This is the liner system that is specifically designed for Gregory Canyon landfill,” Chase explained, “and it’s important to note that many landfills are not lined. There are 16 layers here, double the amount in any other landfill. Each layer has different protections: protective cover soil, then geotextile, various synthetic clay liners, rocks. Then it gets repeated, so it’s what’s called a double composite liner system. It is the belts and suspenders on top of belts and suspenders of liner systems.”
However Ruth Harber, who lives in Valley Center on the other side of Gregory Mountain, is not convinced. Harber is 84 and she says she has spent the last 23 years of her life fighting the Gregory Canyon landfill, ever since she first caught wind of it.
“The water will be polluted. Not in my lifetime, maybe not in my childrens' lifetime but eventually it will be, because all liners leak,” she said, “ Water is irreplaceable: it’s more important than trash.”
Environmental attorney Everett DeLano argued that new technology and new policies are making landfills obsolete.
“Diversion: our ability to take things that used to be trash and turn them into other things: reduce, reuse recycle, is working. “ he said. “I don’t think that San Diego really needs a landfill in the immediate future or even in the more distant future.”
DeLano said there’s no guarantee the landfill would be used for San Diego’s trash.
“This is not North County’s landfill,” he said, “ This is not San Diego’s landfill, this is probably a landfill for other counties in Southern California.”
Can the City of San Diego and North County manage without another landfill?
Steve Grealy is Deputy Director of Waste Reduction and Disposal at the City of San Diego. He said it’s true that in other countries, such as Germany and Japan, more waste is diverted from landfills. But, he says, that means it costs three or four times more to dispose of waste, which would be seen in this country as an unacceptable burden on individuals and businesses.
“Potentially you might be hurting jobs if you do put an extra large sticker price for handling waste on businesses, so I think that’s what the policy makers have to balance when they’re making their decisions.”
Grealy said San Diego City probably has enough landfill capacity to last till 2037 and is also working on alternative ways to deal with waste. Gregory Canyon would not become critical to the city’s waste management strategy till after that.
“In our planning forecast it would add five years of regional capacity from 2037 to 2042,” he said. ”If it was permitted and IF its capacity was dedicated to our region and not to other areas.“
Gregory Canyon is one piece of a puzzle, in a future where we are rethinking how to deal with our trash.
“All I can say is,” Grealy concluded,” it’s a close call, whether it’s going to be vital, or important - or irrelevant.”
The public hearing is at the Escondido Center for the Arts at 6pm.