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Landfill Proponents Say Again Project is Imminent
By J. Harry Jones, January 2, 2014

PALA — Despite a sea of regulatory and legal hurdles, the company behind the long-planned and much-debated Gregory Canyon landfill in North County has always expressed optimism that the dump would be built in the near future.

Now, 20 years after the landfill was first proposed, Gregory Canyon Ltd. is making its boldest prediction yet: demolition and pre-grading within a few months, construction by late summer and a fully operational landfill in 2015.

Opponents — and there are many — are scoffing.

“Sheer nonsense,” said one.

“Laughable,” said another.

The latest timetable was included in an announcement recently posted on the Gregory Canyon web- site, saying the company has reached an agreement with “several private equity sources to finance the next round of development work” and acquire the final permits for the landfill.

“The project is in the final stages of the permit process and anticipates demolition and pre-grading activities to begin in the first quarter of 2014 with full construction activities beginning in the third quarter,” the announcement states. “Project management is estimating the landfill will be in operation by 2015.”

Nancy Chase, longtime spokeswoman for Gregory Canyon Ltd., declined to elaborate or answer any questions Friday, saying she hadn’t been authorized to comment.

But critics were quick to poke holes in the idea that construction could begin soon.

“Opponents of the project have heard these claims numerous times over the last decade and they will continue to fight the project vigorously in all venues,” said attorney Walter Rusinek, who represents the Pala Band of Mission Indians, one of the landfill’s biggest foes.

Indeed, press clippings reveal several predictions of imminent landfill openings dating back to the year 2000 and continuing throughout that decade.

The recent estimate “is beyond rosy” and “a truly unrealistic vision,” agreed Everett DeLano, a lawyer who represents the environmental group Riverwatch, which has also been battling the dump plans for years.

Gregory Canyon Ltd. estimates it has spent nearly $60 million so far on its efforts to build the landfill. The company has consistently said the project is needed to meet the region’s future trash needs and that trucking trash to faraway landfills creates needless pollution.

The project still needs to obtain numerous permits, some of which can’t start being processed until the Army Corps of Engineers determines if drainage from the landfill will negatively impact “waters of the United States,” specifically the nearby San Luis Rey River.

The Corps issued a draft environmental report in 2011 and has been reviewing comments ever since.

Greg Fuderer, a spokesman for the federal agency, said last week the process is on hold as the Corps waits for information from the developer’s contractor regarding some issues raised in the public comment period.

Based on that response, the Corps could then ask for further studies or finally start drafting a final environmental impact statement.

Even then, a final report will be subject to more public review and analysis by the government before a final decision is made whether to issue a permit — a decision which could then be appealed in court.

That means the likelihood of breaking ground in 2014 appears to be a long shot.

The landfill would cover 308 acres of a 1,770-acre piece of property near Gregory Mountain about 3 miles east of Interstate 15 and just south of state Route 76 and the San Luis Rey River.

Proponents say North County needs a landfill and that it will be a state-of-the-art facility that will never leak pollutants into the ground.

Opponents — which include the Pala Indians, several environmental groups and some municipalities — say the dump is an environmental disaster waiting to happen and that it is foolish to think a landfill built near a river wouldn’t cause problems.

The Pala Indians also are concerned with the dump’s location near sacred grounds and many worry about the traffic effects hundreds of trash and water trucks a day would have on the already congested state Route 76.

Unlike most land-use decisions outside municipal boundaries, the county’s board of supervisors has no say in what happens.

In 1994, voters approved a measure, Proposition C, that amended the county’s general plan and zoning ordinance to allow a landfill without a major-use permit, thereby streamlining the project’s approval and removing supervisors from the decision-making. Ten years later, landfill opponents drafted and sponsored a second voter initiative, Proposition B, seeking to invalidate the 1994 initiative. It failed, 64 percent to 36 percent.

Millions of dollars were spent by both sides on the votes.

Damon Nagami, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, another opponent, called the latest prediction “more of the same bluster … Gregory Canyon Landfill’s ‘announcement’ is sheer nonsense.”


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