Monday, February 7, 2011

Gregory Canyon construction may begin in the fall
By: TOM PFINGSTEN - Staff Writer

FALLBROOK ---- The Gregory Canyon landfill near the Pala Indian Reservation needs only a few more permits before construction begins, perhaps as early as this fall, a spokesman for the group that wants to build the dump said Thursday.

With the approval of its major operating permit on Dec. 22, Gregory Canyon Ltd., the group that has struggled for more than 10 years to build the dump off Highway 76, three miles east of Interstate 15, gained momentum that could translate into an early 2006 opening.
"It has been a long process, and the end is in sight," said Nancy Chase, a Gregory Canyon spokeswoman. "It's been so long because we live in a state that requires large infrastructure projects to go through intensive environmental review, as they should."
Gregory Canyon Ltd.'s plans focus on 320 acres of a 1,700-acre site. If the remaining permits needed for operation are approved before next summer, as expected, said Chase, the way will be cleared to build a landfill that would accommodate 1 million tons of solid waste each year for 30 years.

Opponents of the project range from local politicians to a San Luis Rey Rivershed watchdog group to the Pala band of Luiseno Indians. Lenore Volturno, Pala's environmental director, has vehemently opposed the project, and traveled to Sacramento last month to contest it before the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

Even though that council ultimately approved the landfill's most important permit, Volturno said Thursday: "We're very hopeful that there will be an agency that will not supply a permit to Gregory Canyon, because it's such a terrible environmental location for a project," she said. "There's so many issues with this particular site, both environmentally and culturally."

Among the complaints that Volturno has voiced are that the landfill will pollute the tribe's major source of water, the San Luis Rey River, and that its footprint encroaches on sacred land situated atop a hill nearby Gregory Canyon.

But the dump is not a sure thing yet.

Bill Hutton, the attorney who handles Gregory Canyon's permit process, said Thursday that several more permits are required before construction can begin.

Water quality at issue

Perhaps the most consistent accusation leveled against the landfill by its opponents is that it will negatively affect the quality of water, both underground and in the nearby San Luis Rey River.

To prevent that from happening ---- and to earn the approval of a local water board ---- Hutton said that Gregory Canyon plans to install a 7-foot-thick, five-layer lining system that he called "unprecedented" in other Southern California dumps. It will consist of five barriers sandwiched between layers that are designed to detect leakage and collect liquids and gases.

Between that and a series of monitoring wells that will detect possible leaks into the groundwater, said Hutton, Gregory Canyon Ltd. should have no problem securing a water-quality permit.

"It vastly exceeds both the federal and state standards, and it's something we did to provide an enhanced level of protection," Hutton said of the lining system. "The likelihood of pollution from the landfill impacting the uses of groundwater are, in my opinion, nonexistent with all of the systems we have in place. It's an exceptionally secure site."

Hutton said that Gregory Canyon Ltd. has several meetings scheduled with the Regional Water Quality Control Board, after which a formal permit application will be filed. If the water board approves, the permit will most likely be issued within 140 days, or some time this summer.

Air is another issue

The quality of air is another point of contention that has held up landfill development. Pollutants from trash trucks, fumes from the waste and site dust are three key issues that concern officials with the Air Pollution Control District.

The application for a permit authorizing and enforcing air-quality standards for the proposed dump is in the research phase, said Hutton, adding that preliminary results from that study indicate the landfill will be able to meet the established standards.

"It addresses everything ---- dust, auto pollutants like nitrogen oxide, and air toxics, which would largely be a product of landfill gas," he said. "What we're really seeing is that the thing we have to control most is just good old dust."

Gregory Canyon Ltd. is in the process of identifying dust-prevention measures. The completed application will probably be submitted to the county this spring, said Hutton.

Dredging must be done

If approved, the landfill will be at the base of a set of hills south of Highway 76, with the San Luis Rey River running between the dump site and the highway. In order to allow customers to access the facility, a bridge must be built across the river, a process which requires approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Even though the actual area that will be dredged to place bridge pilings amounts to only a very small area, the corps of engineers must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that no endangered species are threatened. Hutton said that Gregory Canyon Ltd. will submit its application to the corps in one to two months.

Approval for the bridge could be given as soon as this summer, he said, adding that it is in discussion with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and that the issue of environmental protection has arisen repeatedly, said Hutton.

"I understand that the river right now is pretty degraded," he said. "So we're going to be restoring the riverbed. About 72 or 73 percent of the Gregory Canyon property will go into permanent, deeded, habitat preservation."

The approximate 1,230 preserve would be furnished with an outside curator that would work with the dump's operator to ensure that "the landfill and the habitat coexist with each other," said Hutton.

Miscellaneous permits

Once the last three major permits have been secured, Gregory Canyon Ltd. will need several other smaller permits for the construction of an access road, a maintenance building, a water tank and a flare station where methane gas will be burned off.

"Those are ones that will generally follow, at the time that you begin actual construction," Hutton said. "We will, on an ongoing basis, start working on those, but that's a lot of detailed engineering work."

The permits for grading and other procedural operations aren't expected to hold up the project's estimated 2006 opening date.

While opponents such as Volturno with the Pala Indian Reservation will continue to battle the Gregory Canyon project, the landfill's proponents feel confident as they near the end of a decade of legal battles.

Hutton cites the fact that Gregory Canyon Ltd. has been able to obtain quotes on a $100 million environmental insurance policy as evidence that the site is more secure than its detractors say it is.

"No insurance company is going to give us a policy of that size if there's any risk," he said.

When it opens, Gregory Canyon officials said the landfill will be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. It will be closed on Sundays. The landfill will not accept green waste, said Hutton, but may accept some on a limited basis to use as an alternative cover for the trash, which is usually buried under dirt every night.

"There will be a drop-off recycling facility, probably outside the landfill gate," Hutton continued. "We're also going to accept waste tires, and shred those either onsite or offsite and try to find a reuse for them."

Contact staff writer Tom Pfingsten at (760) 731-5799 or

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