After six years of argument, the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday finally selected two potential landfill sites that may become North County's trash dumps of the future.
But, before such a decision is final, each of the two locations will undergo $4 million in studies to determine if it is suitable.
The locations chosen for further study were Merriam Mountain South, across Interstate 15 from Lawrence Welk Village, and Gopher Canyon Road, next to Vista Valley Country Club.
Residents from both retirement communities vowed to fight the supervisors' decision.
"We're prepared to take whatever steps necessary to prevent this," a Welk Village resident said as she stormed out of the meeting.
The Merriam Mountain site west of the upscale retirement development was ranked first among candidates in the most recent survey of potential dump sites.
Supervisor John MacDonald, who has attempted to resolve fast-growing North County's trash disposal problem without raising the wrath of residents, lost in his latest effort to find a more distant location.
The North County supervisor proposed that the county staff open negotiations with the Campo Indian band, which is expected to open a waste disposal landfill on its southeast San Diego County reservation by early next year.
MacDonald explained that the Campo site could serve as a backup if the North County dump sites were all found to be unsuitable, "and I have serious questions about whether any of these (North County) sites are going to survive."
But South County Supervisor Brian Bilbray challenged MacDonald's proposal as "in direct conflict with two county policies." Shipping trash 80 to 100 miles to the distant Campo site violates a county policy that trash be handled as close to the source of generation as possible, Bilbray said.
Board policies also prohibit putting a landfill outside the area it serves, Bilbray added, because "we do not want anyone shipping their problems to someone else's neighborhood."
Bilbray accused MacDonald of "encouraging and enticing" his North County constituents "to consider the easy answer" of locating a new landfill outside his supervisorial district when county policies prohibit it.
Supervisor Susan Golding, however, came to MacDonald's aid, pointing out that "to refuse to even find out what the Campo Indians are interested in doing is a mistake."
In selecting the two locations, supervisors rejected several others.
One of the deleted sites is west of Rancho Bernardo. It was removed from consideration at the urging of Supervisor Susan Golding, who is running for mayor in San Diego. Rancho Bernardo residents opposed the location.
Also deleted from the costly studies, at least temporarily, was the city of Oceanside's Loma Alta dump site. The location had been ranked second among 16 North County sites in the most recent of three consultant surveys.
William Worrell, deputy director of the county public works department, said the work necessary to determine if the Gopher Canyon and Merriam Mountain sites are suitable for landfills will cost $1 million to $2 million per site.
"That's not out of line when you consider that these are likely to be $50- to $60-million-dollar projects," Worrell said.
A closer look at the Oceanside trash site, situated near the northwest corner of the intersection of Oceanside and College boulevards, was delayed until after an April conference of regional authorities on landfill and transfer station sites.
Worrell noted that the Oceanside City Council had voted unanimously to prohibit use of the Loma Alta site, "and we need their approval."
Bilbray said he is in favor of further studies of the Oceanside site but said he is "not interested in 20 years of lawsuits" arising from the city-county conflict.
MacDonald voted against all the proposals after his efforts to start negotiations with the Campo Indian leaders failed. He said he "had been prepared to vote in favor of going ahead with all these sites, but that all changed when you take out one or two."
He argued that placing a landfill on the Merriam Mountain site would "greatly impact a spa and a golf course, and one of the major sources of TOT (hotel-motel tax) revenue in the county"--the Lawrence Welk resort and golf club.
Rancho Bernardo residents, who had come to the hearing by the busload but were not allowed to speak on the landfill issue, gave the board cheers and applause when the nearby South Lake Hodges site was dropped from consideration by a 3-2 vote.
Part of the San Diego suburb lies between I-15 and the proposed landfill site to the west. Both Golding and Bilbray argued against including the site because of its closeness to Lake Hodges, a city of San Diego reservoir that provides drinking water for several North County coastal communities, and the potential for traffic, noise and dust affecting neighboring residential areas.
Two other sites--Aspen Road, north of Fallbrook, and Gregory Canyon, east of I-15 and south of California 76--are also undergoing environmental and geotechnical review, Worrell said.
MacDonald, frustrated in his efforts to widen the field of candidate sites to six, warned that the county may end up with no suitable landfill locations at all.
Both Gregory Canyon and Aspen Road sites are under threat of lawsuits from governmental agencies opposing their development as landfill, MacDonald said. The Aspen Road site is opposed by the Navy Department because of possible contamination of water supplies on Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base, and the County Water Authority is opposed to both sites and has threatened legal action, MacDonald said.