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County Adds Site Near Pala to Candidates for Landfill

Times Staff Writer

Despite strong opposition from Fallbrook residents and supervisors’ own doubts, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday agreed to add a 1,600-acre site to the list of finalists under consideration as a North County landfill.

By a unanimous vote, with Supervisor Susan Golding absent, the board decided to permit the site, situated west of Pala, to compete with three other parcels identified earlier as potential landfills to meet the county’s expanding trash-disposal needs.

However, although saying they see no harm in at least considering the site, owned by Fallbrook developer David Lowry, the supervisors also made it clear that they are skeptical of the property’s feasibility as a dump site, primarily because of environmental concerns.

Lowry’s property, 4 miles east of Interstate 15 and south of California 76, is in the San Luis Rey River Valley, where, opponents emphasized, contamination could pollute wells and water supplies downstream.

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Other Finalists

However, with Lowry having agreed to finance a required environmental impact report, the supervisors argued that it would be premature to eliminate Lowry’s Couser Canyon site from consideration before that study and its subsequent side-by-side comparison with the three other contenders. The other finalists are Blue Canyon, situated northwest of Warner Springs; Trujillo Canyon, north of Pala, and a site on Aspen Road between Fallbrook and Rainbow.

But the supervisors also couched Wednesday’s decision with a cautionary note to Lowry.

“I guess the message to Mr. Lowry is: Proceed at your own risk,” Supervisor John MacDonald said.

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The supervisors’ action came after a county counsel’s report concluded that Lowry, a former chairman of the Fallbrook Planning Group, had not--as opponents alleged--violated conflict-of-interest policies by voting against the proposed Aspen Road site while having an interest in a competing parcel.

‘Conceived in Dishonesty’

At an emotional board meeting two weeks ago, opponents charged that Lowry’s proposal was, as one Fallbrook resident put it, “conceived in dishonesty and a betrayal of the public trust” because he had lobbied and voted against the Aspen Road site while accumulating the Couser Canyon property. That allegation prompted the board to delay its decision on whether to include Lowry’s property in the landfill search, to give county officials time to examine the charges.

However, Deputy County Counsel Arne Hansen said Wednesday that his investigation determined that Lowry had only “done some very preliminary work” on the Couser Canyon land at the time of the Fallbrook Planning Group’s April, 1988, recommendation that the other potential dump site be rejected.

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“He had acquired no property or begun the acquisition process, had not entered into the county selection process in any concrete way and had not . . . even hired a consultant,” Hansen said. As a result, he said, it was “not reasonably foreseeable” that Lowry’s vote against the Aspen Road site, which county officials decided to include in their review despite the Fallbrook board’s recommendation to the contrary, could have a financial effect on the Couser Canyon property.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Lowry said he regards the county counsel’s report and the supervisors’ vote as a vindication of his actions. Although opponents continued to grumble about alleged improprieties, Lowry noted: “If they had any evidence, they’d have brought it out, wouldn’t they?”

Despite allowing Lowry’s site to undergo intensive environmental review along with the three other parcels, the supervisors emphasized that they remain troubled by the environmental and other objections raised by opponents, which include Valley Center planners and members of Indian groups in the area.

Bilbray Skeptical

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“Any pollution of the river would make this site totally unacceptable to me,” MacDonald said.

Supervisor Brian Bilbray added: “My position on this site is, I want to look at it. But I’m very, very skeptical.”

But Supervisor Leon Williams pointed out, and his colleagues agreed, that Lowry’s willingness to pay for the environmental review will increase the county’s options at no expense to taxpayers.


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