The Gregory Canyon landfill plans should be dumped

Imagine arriving at your church only to find it filled to its rafters with garbage.

Imagine being one of hundreds of thousands of people who depend on an aquifer for drinking water as out-of-town interests hatch plans to bury more than 30 million tons of trash on top of it.

Imagine a land-use debate that spans more than two decades, with dogged speculators pushing for a trash dump despite evidence that the spot they’ve picked is fatally flawed.

Welcome to Gregory Canyon in north San Diego County.

The Times’ July 5 story, ” San Diego County tribe says proposed landfill would be too close to sacred site,” touches on the outrage felt among members of the Pala band of Mission Indians about a private developer’s proposal to build a 1,770-acre landfill in a sparsely populated, unincorporated part of the county.

And why shouldn’t they be angry? For the Pala Indians, Medicine Rock near the Gregory Canyon site is a holy place where rite-of-passage ceremonies are held and where Native Americans make contact with spiritual ancestors.

Joining the Pala tribe in formal opposition are 18 other federally recognized tribes in Southern California. They are understandably incensed.

In addition to trampling on Native American heritage, the landfill threatens to spoil a rare local source of potable water — the San Luis Rey River and its underlying aquifer, which feeds dozens of household and agricultural wells and is blended into the city of Oceanside’s tap water.

Proponents of the landfill say a modern liner would keep toxic liquid from leaching into the groundwater. Authorities, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, insist there’s no such thing as a fail-safe landfill liner.

The San Diego County Farm Bureau, on behalf of growers who tap the aquifer, has issued its own letter of concern. The cities of Oceanside, Carlsbad, Solana Beach and Del Mar have all adopted resolutions opposing the landfill.

The dump also would threaten our access to imported water. One of San Diego County Water Authority’s massive aqueducts flanks the landfill site. The agency, which ensures water reliability for the region, has published its own letter of strong concern over the landfill.

Ironically, water for the landfill’s construction and operations also would be imported — by truck from a vendor in Los Angeles.

Landfill backers say we’re running out of landfill space. That’s just not true. Waste diversion and recycling rates are at an all-time high, and technology enables us to use existing landfill space more efficiently.

Last month, voters approved zoning for a landfill at the opposite end of the county, in an area where environmental impacts would be far less significant.

Proponents remind us that Gregory Canyon appears on a government list of potential landfill sites but ignore the fact that Gregory Canyon was at the bottom of the list because it failed seven of eight requirements for suitability.

After 20 years of trying, Gregory Canyon Ltd. could fill a dump truck with the $40 million it has spent to advance its plans.

Recently, a Superior Court judge invalidated a key permit for the landfill. This summer, the Army Corps of Engineers launched what will be an exhaustive environmental review of the proposal. In May, more than 300 people packed a hearing room to tell the Corps how strongly they opposed the landfill.

More hearings are certain, and so is a rehashing of the objections raised by environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, RiverWatch, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper.

Regardless, Gregory Canyon Ltd., with dump trucks full of money, will continue to plow ahead with plans that should have been trashed long, long ago.

Pam Slater-Price is chairwoman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.