Landfill proposal bashed at rally

North County Times 10.21.12
Landfill proposal bashed at rally

Bird singers Wayne Nelson and Brent Robbins perform songs as part of the Rally to Save Gregory Canyon at the Pala Rey Youth Camp.

As a firetruck blared its siren somewhere off in the distance Saturday morning, a pack of coyotes matched its tune, howling for about a minute from their unseen location along the eastern face of a fog-shrouded Gregory Mountain.

Nearby at a youth camp on the Pala Indian Reservation, about 75 people were gathering for a rally against the long-proposed Gregory Canyon landfill.

It is a battle that has been waged, at great cost to all sides, for more than 20 years.

“We’re going to continue to fight,” Pala Chairman Robert Smith told the gathering, as if there were any doubt.

Gregory Canyon Ltd., the would-be developers of the landfill, have invested $62 million in the project since it was first proposed in the early 1990s. The Pala tribe, whose reservation sits just east of the canyon where the dump would be built — south of Highway 76 about 31/2 miles east of Interstate 15 — has spent millions more fighting it in court as well as failed countywide propositions.

Saturday’s rally was the most recent of countless public meetings where opponents have voiced their concerns. And more meetings are coming soon, as critical documents are about to be released by several agencies that could lead to the issuance of permits.

“It seems like we do this over and over and over again,” said Shasta Gaughen, the tribe’s environmental director and historic preservation officer.

Gaughen, county Supervisor Pam Slater-Price and others urged those at the rally to send letters and to speak up at the coming meetings.

“Let them know a dump in Gregory Canyon is not in the public’s interest,” Gaughen said.

Nancy Chase, spokeswoman for Gregory Canyon Ltd., said last week she optimistically thought all the required permits can be obtained, and ground can finally be broken for the project, by the end of next year.

It’s a prediction that’s been made, and been incorrect, many times before.

But Chase said she has never been so confident.

“We have made great progress with the agencies,” she said. “We’ve dotted every ‘i’ 20 times over, and I’m feeling very bullish on it, as is the rest of the team.

“I think this will be the most studied landfill in the history of the universe, and we look forward to building this much-needed piece of infrastructure for San Diego County residents.”

The Pala tribe has borne the majority of the cost of fighting the landfill. The members oppose its construction partly because nobody wants a dump next to their home, and partly because they insist the landfill would be built next to a sacred mountain revered by its people.

The dump is also opposed by many environmental groups and municipalities downstream along the San Luis Rey River, which sits not far from the dump’s proposed boundaries.

They say there is no such thing as a safe landfill and that someday, maybe decades or even centuries after it has exceeded its 30-year life expectancy, the dump would leak pollutants into the ground.

Proponents of the project have long said the landfill would be built using technology that would eliminate any threat to the river or groundwater.

Soon, probably by the end of this month, a final court decision will be rendered concerning the latest, and probably last challenge to an environmental report that was first prepared 13 years ago by the county and has undergone significant change as one lawsuit after another attacked parts of the document.

The developers think the decision will go their way, which will in turn allow them to make a final push for key permits. Meanwhile, after more than two years of preparation, the Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release its federal environmental impact statement on the project within the next couple of months. A public review period for it will follow.

The life of the project has gone in cycles. Sometimes there is great activity, other times, as studies are prepared and lawsuits drag through the courts, there are long periods of inactivity. It’s going to get exciting again soon.

The last time the landfill was in the news was almost one year ago, when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have stopped it in its tracks. The Legislature had crafted a bill making it illegal to build a landfill so close to a river and near a Native American cultural site.

Brown said the legislation wasn’t necessary.

“There is already in place a fully sufficient process to make a thoughtful and informed environmental decision about this project,” he said in his veto message.

Pala Band of Mission Indians

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