State panel approves Gregory Canyon permit
By Bill Ainsworth
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
December 15, 2004
SACRAMENTO – A permit for the proposed Gregory Canyon landfill was approved by the state's Integrated Waste Management Board yesterday, eliminating a major hurdle for the project.
A 3-2 majority of the voting board members, after hearing three hours of testimony, agreed that the proposed landfill had met the state's environmental standards.
Rosalie Mule, a board member who voted for the permit, said growth is coming to San Diego County, "and we're going to have to address the solid waste needs."
Richard Chase, project manager for Gregory Canyon, the investment partnership that has spent about $20 million so far to develop the landfill welcomed the decision.
"We're obviously very pleased. They did the right thing," he said.
The permit from the board, which oversees landfills and encourages recycling, is the most important for the project by far, Chase said.
But the landfill still must be approved by agencies that regulate air pollution and water quality. It must also survive a court challenge to its environmental impact report.
Barry Martin, water utilities director for Oceanside, which opposes the landfill, expressed disappointment, especially because the board is part of California's Environmental Protection Agency.
"They are here to protect the environment," he said. "I think they let us down."
Mule was impressed with the public support for the project, which was demonstrated in two countywide election victories, in 1994 and last month. "The voters have spoken, not once, but twice," she said.
Mule and board members Carl Washington and Rosario Marin voted to approve the project.
Board members Michael Paparian and Linda Moulton-Patterson voted against the permit, saying it would endanger sacred tribal sites, threaten water supplies, increase air pollution and harm endangered species.
They also said increasing recycling and expanding existing landfills in the county are better alternatives. "It's clear that there is no need for Gregory Canyon landfill," Paparian said.
Cheryl Peace, a board member from San Diego County, recused herself, saying a firm that provides income to her husband, former state Sen. Steve Peace, had been hired by opponents of the landfill during the November ballot campaign.
Peace said she had strong feelings on the issue, but she wanted to avoid "even the appearance of a conflict of interest." In an interview outside the board meeting room, she declined to discuss the issue further.
The proposed landfill in Pala is off state Route 76 about three miles east of Interstate 15. It would take up about 320 acres of a 1,770-acre parcel. The remaining acreage would become a nature preserve.
If built, Gregory Canyon could accept a million tons of trash a year for about 30 years. North County, which now has no operating landfill, generates about 800,000 tons of garbage a year.
"North County needs a landfill," Bill Hutton, a lawyer for project proponents told the board yesterday.
Hutton said the landfill would serve North County, but he refused a request from Paparian to accept a ban on accepting trash from outside the county.
Cheryl Reiff, a volunteer coordinator for the Sierra Club's San Diego chapter, which opposes the landfill, said those positions are inconsistent. "That smells fishy to me," she said.
In last month's campaign, opponents of the landfill charged that the developers plan on accepting trash trucked in from Los Angeles.
The proposed landfill is next to Gregory Mountain and Medicine Rock, two sites considered sacred by the Pala Band of Mission Indians. Their representatives urged the board to deny the permit.
"This is clearly a case of environmental injustice," said Lenore Volturno, director of environmental services for the Pala band.
Other speakers said the landfill would be close to the San Luis Rey River and a major aquifer and would threaten water supplies used by the Pala tribe and some North County cities.
"Oceanside is lucky enough to have a local water supply. In a desert, you know how precious that is," said Martin, the Oceanside utilities director. "We're very concerned that these water supplies will become contaminated."
Proposition B on the Nov. 2 ballot was intended to block the landfill but was rejected by more than 63 percent of voters countywide. It was the most expensive ballot measure in county history, with both sides spending more than $4.3 million on their campaigns.