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County Braces for Tense, Packed Landfill Hearing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Never before, San Diego County planning officials say, have they been bombarded with such an outpouring of opposition to a single proposal, and today that proposal will surface at a public hearing in Fallbrook.

Where should North County’s garbage be dumped?

The county has identified three potential landfill sites, and the Planning Commission today will meet at 9 a.m. for what is expected to be an all-day marathon session--that will most likely spill over into Friday--to discuss the pros and cons of each.

The commission is bound to hear more cons than pros. About 1,400 separate letters have been received by the county, some asking one or two questions and others posing 100 or more questions about the landfill site-selection process.

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“I’ve been with the county for 15 years, and neither I nor people I’ve talked to can think of any (public reaction) even approaching this,” said Jon Rollin, a program coordinator for the county Department of Public Works’ solid waste division.

The county staff has recommended that all three proposed landfill sites be adopted by the county to help ensure a place to dump garbage for the next 50 years or so. The county’s existing North County landfill, in San Marcos, is expected to be filled next year, and, even if it is expanded, it will fill up by the end of the decade, planners estimate.

The proposed sites are:

* A 416-acre site along Aspen Road in Fallbrook that would take about 15 years’ worth of garbage.

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* A 238-acre site in Gregory Canyon, along California 76 just east of Interstate 15 in the Pauma Valley, that could accommodate 14 years’ of trash.

* A 772-acre site at Blue Canyon northwest of Warner Springs, near California 79, that would accommodate trash for about 34 years.

Critics have pounded the county with arguments opposing each site--and still more, new arguments are expected to be heard today when the Planning Commission meets in a community hall at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, 450 S. Stage Coach Lane, in Fallbrook.

Among the opponents will be John Hanson, a licensed engineering geologist who lives near the Fallbrook site and will argue that the county will be asking for big trouble if it puts garbage there.

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Hanson said a review of seismic studies suggests that an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale would have the end result of collapsing the Fallbrook trash site, which he likens more to a mountain of garbage than a landfill.

Not only would the man-made embankments surrounding the trash fill give way in such an earthquake, he said, but the landfill’s bottom clay liner would fracture. In that event, he contends, the toxins within the landfill would leach into the region’s ground water, contaminating not only much of Fallbrook’s well water but that of neighboring Camp Pendleton, which relies exclusively on the nearby Santa Margarita River ground-water basin.

The Marine Corps, along with other federal and state agencies, have gone on record as opposing the Fallbrook site.

“The failure (of the clay liner) would be the most catastrophic of events and have the worse implications for the environment,” said Hanson, who said he based his analysis on the same figures and computer modeling as was relied upon by the county itself in studying the site.

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“How do you fix something like that, when it’s under several hundred feet of garbage?” he asked rhetorically.

Gordon Tinker, general manager of the Fallbrook Public Utilities District, said the county staff’s recommendation to adopt any of the three sites--let alone all of them--"is appalling.”

Each landfill could contaminate ground-water basins, thereby posing a risk that shouldn’t be accepted by the county no matter how minimal, Tinker contends.

“The county has to wake up to the fact that we can’t accept any risks, no matter how small, to any of our water resources. But we seem to be dealing with a certain segment of the county government that isn’t showing any concern about those other issues and are just thinking about their own little piece of the action,” Tinker complained.

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“They’re ignoring the other issues and will pass the buck onto the Planning Commission and ultimately the Board of Supervisors, and is putting them between a rock and a hard place. They’re going to force this into a political decision.”

Whatever the outcome of the Planning Commission decision on where a landfill should be developed, its choice will go before the County Board of Supervisors no earlier than next month. Already, the San Diego Convention Center has been reserved for the meeting because of the turnout expected.


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