False Alarm Landfill Opponents Raise Unfounded Fears

    Opponents of the planned landfill at the Campo Indian Reservation in East County are going international in their effort to whip up groundless fears about the federally approved project.

    In a misguided effort, Backcountry Against Dumps (BAD) now is trying to enlist Mexican opposition to the landfill by claiming potential risks to public safety. San Diego County trash destined for the landfill likely would be hauled by rail through part of Mexico.

    As envisioned by the Campo Indians, trash would be transported to the landfill by the San Diego & Imperial valley Railroad. Coming from San Diego, the rail line dips south of the border at Tijuana, passes through Tecate, and then returns to the U.S. side just west of Campo. The rail line circles around two-thirds of the landfill site.

    The San Diego & Imperial Valley Railroad transports propane daily to Tijuana.  If it can be entrusted with flammable cargo, it certainly can handle one load of nonhazardous household trash a day.

    Seventy-five percent of the railroad's customers are in Mexico, including the Tecate brewery. The rail company respects Mexican law just as much as it respects U.S. law, says Daniel Botello, the railroad's general manager.  Furthermore, Botello and representatives from Campo have kept Mexican officials apprised of Campols plans.

    The trash would be transported in hermetically sealed containers on a train moving at an average speed of 20 mph -- and a maximum of 35 mph. The round trip -- loaded cars from San Diego and empty cars back to San Diego -- takes about eight hours.

    Because the environmental impact studies on the landfill project address the impacts of moving trash to Campo either by rail or highway, Campols use of the rail lines is not essential, according to representatives from the tribe and the Ohio-based contractor, Mid-American Waste Systems.

    But rail transport would be preferable from an environmental standpoint because it would enable the landfill operators to inspect incoming trash more efficiently. In addition, trains cause far less air pollution per ton of cargo than tractor-trailer trucks on highways.

    Rail transport also would be a plus for the rail line, allowing greater use to be made of existing, underutilized infrastructure and increasing the rail line's revenues by about one-third. And it would be good for Mexico, because the rail line pays Mexico for every car that goes into the country.

    The Campo project, slated to begin construction within two or three weeks and to start receiving trash by next June or early July, can be a valuable part of the trash solution at a critical time for San Diego County. The project is a modest one -- about 3,000 tons of trash a day.

    But that's about one-fifth of the daily solid waste stream managed by the county. Mid-American has posted a tipping fee of $30 per ton; even with additional anticipated transportation costs of $8 or $9 per ton, that compares very favorably to the county's current costs.

    Furthermore, the landfill is being built in 20 different cells, so that the county could pinpoint where county waste would go, thereby minimizing liability concerns.

    Misguided landfill opponents who threaten to block the railroad tracks to prevent shipments of trash would be breaking federal laws in both the United States and Mexico. Far more seriously, their futile effort to stop this promising project on such a flimsy pretext also risks creating a pointless international misunderstanding.

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Copyright 1993 The San Diego union-Tribune
The San Diego Union-Tribune
December 8, 1993, Wednesday