OCEANSIDE — The Gregory Canyon landfill has been a source of controversy in the county for nearly two decades, and much of the debate has raged in Oceanside.
That’s why city staff in Oceanside is carefully examining a draft environmental impact report for the Gregory Canyon landfill with the help of several experts.
Once they finish going through the impact report, city staff will submit their position and any other feedback, sometime before the April 15 deadline for public comments.
“The document is several thousand pages long,” said Cari Dale, Oceanside’s water utilities department director. “We want to be thorough.”
The Army Corps of Engineers will analyze public comments and decide whether to issue a permit for the project at an undetermined point in the future. Gregory Canyon Limited, the company behind the project, also needs permits from other groups for the project to move forward.
Oceanside’s vested interest in the landfill can be traced to the city’s large groundwater basin.
The groundwater in the basin is treated through an ocean desalination plant and currently supplies 15 to 20 percent of the city’s demand. In the future, new wells coming online could add another 20 percent.
The city, however, worries that pollutants from the landfill near Pala could seep into the San Luis Rey River, which flows into the Oceanside groundwater basin.
“They can say the landfill won’t have a leak,” Dale said. “But it’s like the Super Bowl, I’m sure they said the lights wouldn’t go off. We want to be absolutely sure it’s safe.”
She added that even one leak, no matter if it’s five or 50 years from now, could threaten the city’s water supply and the costly infrastructure Oceanside is investing in.
Jim Simmons, the project manager for Gregory Canyon Limited, said the landfill isn’t close enough to water sources to pollute them.
Regardless, he said the landfill would use a double composite lining to protect against any spills — state-of-the-art technology, he maintains, that goes way beyond environmental regulations.
“Critics have been proven wrong about the environmental impact,” Simmons said. “They’ve resorted to making things up.”
The landfill was approved by voters in 1994 and in 2004, but still doesn’t have all the required permits.
Including legal fees, Gregory Canyon Limited has invested $67 million to open a new landfill since it started its campaign 20 years ago. Over time, Simmons believes opponents in Oceanside have softened their stance on the landfill.
The Oceanside City Council has largely opposed the landfill in the past, though in 2011 it voted 3-2 not to support state legislation that would have prohibited the construction of a landfill within 1,000 feet of the San Luis Rey River, or land believed to be sacred by American Indians — a group that has also fought against the landfill.
Currently, there isn’t an agenda item scheduled to once again address the landfill issue.
Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood has remained steadfast in his opposition to the landfill. Recently, he spoke out against it at a public meeting in Escondido that was attended by more than 300 people.
“We shouldn’t take a chance on something that could result in us wasting millions in capital improvement projects,” Wood said, adding flooding or an earthquake could send pollutants from the San Luis Rey River into Oceanside’s aquifer.
Wood also said the landfill proposes to solve problems that only existed more than a decade ago. Chiefly, he said Gregory Canyon landfill isn’t necessary in light of other landfills in the county expanding.
But Gregory Canyon Limited maintains the landfill will provide a much-needed place for the county to store its trash.
Stephen Grealy, deputy director of waste reduction and disposal at the city of San Diego, said that under current plans the county’s landfills will reach capacity in 2037.
The Gregory Canyon landfill would add an estimated five years to how much the county can hold, according to an analysis done in November.
“If it’s approved, the region’s capacity date would be 2042,” Grealy said.
Grealy noted that the year for when the county will reach landfill capacity has indeed been pushed back a few times. There are several reasons for this.
First, the Sycamore Canyon landfill will expand. Second, recycling and trash diversion efforts have increased, partly due to new state laws and also because of more awareness. Finally, with the economic slowdown, businesses weren’t generating as much waste, causing trash levels to decline.
Grealy noted it’s possible trash production will rise as the economy heats up again.