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New owners say dump back on track
Gregory Canyon landfill gets new investors and maybe a new life.  

By J. Harry Jones, June 5, 2015

PALA — A San Diego-based private equity firm has completed its takeover of Gregory Canyon Ltd., the company that’s been trying to build a landfill in North County for 20 years.

Sovereign Capital Management Group has paid off a $200 million debt Gregory Canyon had amassed over the years and at a foreclosure hearing in El Cajon on Thursday was the lone bidder for the 1,770-acre property off state Route 76. The company paid $18 million for the land.

Sovereign President Todd Mikles said the company intends to pursue the landfill plans and has begun running television ads touting the need for a North County facility.
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“We just want to get people behind the project and reinvigorate it and make sure everybody knows its something we’re working on,” Mikles said. “We want to rally public support about it. There’s a lot of misinformation and we want to make sure people are educated about what needs to happen.”

The landfill has already secured several major permits needed to start construction, but two more important ones remain.

Mikles said in the past few weeks an application was submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restart the application process for a permit required by the dump’s proximity to the San Luis Rey River. He said work began a couple months ago preparing information the Corps will need to restart the review process, which was suspended last year after Gregory Canyon Ltd. ran out of funding and couldn’t produce information the Corps requested.

A spokesman for the Corps said Friday there is no telling how long the permitting process might take, but said it could still be years.

The project also needs a permit from the county’s Air Pollution Control District which canceled an earlier application in late 2013 due to unpaid bills.

District Senior Engineer Steve Moore said no new application has been received and won’t be considered until $403,688 is paid to the county for work that has been done to date on the earlier application and late fees.

If a check does arrive, Moore said, it would likely take 12 to 18 months before a decision on a permit would be made.

News that the landfill plans have been brought back to life has left opponents shaking their heads.

“The tribe is assessing the significance of the purchase (of the land) but it does not alter the tribe’s resolve to keep a landfill from desecrating the sacred site of its forebears,” said Pala Indian tribal Spokesman Doug Elmets. “This fight has been going on for 20 years and the tribe will continue the fight for another 20 years if necessary.”

The landfill would be built just south of Route 76 about 3 1/2 miles east of Interstate 15 in a canyon on the west side of Gregory Mountain, parts of which the tribe considers sacred.

The Pala reservation, and its casino and resort, are located on the other side of the mountain. The tribe has spent countless millions of dollars battling the dump plans.

Environmentalists too, concerned about what long-term impact a landfill could have on the San Luis Rey River among other things, also said the fight will never end.

“It just feels like good money after bad,” said environmental lawyer Everett DeLano who has been involved in the dump battle for years.

“This was a bad idea from the start and they just keep throwing more money at it. I don’t understand why that’s happening. Nothing’s changed from our perspective. It’s still a bad project.”

Sovereign has redone the gregorycanyonlandfill.com website, where it makes a case for the need for a new county landfill.

In 1994, voters approved Proposition C, a measure that amended the county’s general plan and zoning ordinance to allow a landfill without a major-use permit, thereby — at least theoretically — streamlining the projects approval. Ten years later, the project withstood another major challenge when voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have invalidate Proposition C.

“We’re moving forward with what we have as an asset,” Mikles said Thursday during a brief interview following the foreclosure sale. “What the property has today is permits. It’s been voted on, it’s entitled. It’s zoned.”

Having said that, Mikels also said that the company is open to other uses of the land. “We’re not opposed to something different.”

He said there have been some discussions with the Pala tribe about the tribe buying the property, but they went nowhere.

Sovereign plans on issuing a news release next week detailing its plans and efforts to date. They declined further comment Friday.

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