Gregory Canyon Landfill: At $815 million, isn't it time to dump the dump?

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(Photo credit: NRDC)

We regularly applaud folks for holding on and hanging in there. But sometimes, the real vision, wisdom, and courage are in knowing when to let go and give up. For the proposed Gregory Canyon Landfill, the time to give up has arrived... again.

A report released today by the Pala Band of Mission Indians estimates the total cost of constructing, operating, and closing the proposed Gregory Canyon Landfill in northern San Diego County will be more than $815 million. This near-billion dollar figure is a staggering sum for a developer that, as my colleague Damon Nagami explained in his blog earlier this year, is already experiencing substantial financial troubles. The new report estimates the operational cost alone to be $56,307 per day or more, raising serious questions about the financial viability of a project that has already faced a series of setbacks.

Twentysome years ago, when the dump was first proposed, it didn't make sense. And it still doesn't. If built, the dump would put the San Luis Rey River and local groundwater at risk, desecrate Native American sacred sites, create traffic hazards, and destroy threatened and endangered species' habitat. And for what?


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Landfills are old news. As a kid, I used to drive out to the dump on the weekends with my dad, and we'd toss our unsorted bags onto the smelly heap. Today, my blue recycle bin is always fuller than my black trash can.

I'm not alone.

Across Southern California, the plastic bag is disappearing from our grocery stores, people are reading their newspapers online, and urban composting is happening. Numbers released last year by the California Department of Recovery and Recycling show that San Diego County (and the State of California overall) continues to move away from disposing of trash in landfills and towards alternative methods of waste management.

San Diego does not need this landfill. That's why NRDC and the Pala Band of Mission Indians -- along with a broad coalition of California tribes, local environmental groups, elected officials, scientists, and concerned citizens -- have opposed the proposal at every turn, submitting comments opposing the landfill's permit applications and testifying at public hearings.

And the estimated $815 million price tag to build this behemoth isn't even the full bill. It doesn't account for several substantial costs, including installation and management of expensive on-site habitat mitigation. Nor does the price tag include the tens of millions of dollars already spent by Gregory Canyon Ltd. LLC, the landfill's would-be developer. The proposed landfill isn't just behind the times and an ecologically bad idea. It's financially foolish as well.

NRDC, the Pala Band of Mission Indians, RiverWatch, and the broad and tireless coalition of San Diego County residents, Native American tribes, environmentalists, farmers, and elected officials will continue to fight until the dump is dead.

Blog co-written with Marine Mammal Program Assistant Julie Mendel.