It Turns Out Building a Landfill on Sacred Native Lands Next to a River Isn’t Easy

Image removed.

I’ve blogged about the significance of the San Luis Rey River before -- it is the ecological backbone of one of the main watersheds in northern San Diego County. It turns out we weren’t the only ones concerned about the possible damage a mega-landfill could inflict on this critical drinking water source. Recently, NRDC learned that the EPA is calling for a full and comprehensive environmental review for the proposed Gregory Canyon Landfill, which is exactly what needs to take place before any progress is made to further the proposed garbage dump plan.

The proposed 300-acre landfill would be built on the banks of the San Luis Rey River and would desecrate lands considered sacred to the Luiseño people, who have lived and worshipped on the lands for hundreds of years. The project’s proponents pushed for a truncated review process that would forgo a careful examination of the dump’s environmental impacts, as well as depriving the public of its right to participate in the review process.

However, in a December 28, 2009 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA called for a full review of the project. This would include both an individual permit under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act because the project would affect ”waters of the United States,” and an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because the proposal poses significant changes to the existing environment that need to be considered under federal law.

This is a hugely important determination by the federal agency charged with protecting our natural resources and ensuring that our environmental laws are obeyed.

And it comes on the heels of a November 2009 decision by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board -- a state agency with the power to veto the project entirely -- to delay approval of a bridge over the San Luis Rey River that would connect the proposed landfill to a nearby highway. The Board determined that it needed to examine the entirety of the proposed landfill, and not just the bridge to nowhere, as proponents would have liked.

This is a controversial project requiring strict environmental review.  Landfills are permanent reminders of waste in our society and they must be approached in a smart and legally-recognized process.  This project would have such enormous environmental and cultural impacts that it calls for nothing less.