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Encinitas to Fight Trash-to-Energy Plant With Suit

September 23, 1987|ERIC BAILEY | Times Staff Writer

The Encinitas City Council has decided to file a lawsuit challenging the $217-million trash-to-energy plant narrowly approved by voters in San Marcos last week.

Although council members would not divulge details of the lawsuit, which is expected to be filed today, officials said the challenge stems from concerns about the environmental effects of the plant.

Encinitas city leaders have been among the most vociferous opponents of the plant, which is planned for a 15-acre parcel on the edge of the existing San Marcos landfill.

The council decided unanimously to file the suit after debating the issue during a closed session before a meeting Monday, Mayor Marjorie Gaines said.

'Proper Thing to Do'

"We just basically discussed the merits of the case, what our options were, and decided that filing a lawsuit would be the proper thing to do," Gaines said.

Dwight Worden, a private attorney in Solana Beach with an extensive background in environmental law, was busy Tuesday drawing up the necessary legal documents in anticipation of filing the lawsuit. The council plans a press conference for this afternoon at City Hall to discuss the issues involved in the suit.

Along with elected officials from Carlsbad, the Encinitas council raised questions in the weeks before the election about the plant's environmental impacts on surrounding communities. While the Carlsbad council has yet to address the issue of litigation, officials there have not ruled out the possibility of joining Encinitas in the suit.

Officials in San Marcos said they were not surprised by the announcement but predicted that the lawsuit will not block construction of the trash-burning plant.

"This is nothing unexpected," said Mayor Lee Thibadeau, a staunch supporter of the plant. "It's unfortunate that they decided to choose this avenue of action instead of getting behind this and making sure it's the safest and best-built plant in the nation."

Procedures Questioned

Aside from the environmental concerns, Gaines said the lawsuit would test the procedural avenues the San Marcos council navigated in approving the plant, which is designed to burn most of the garbage produced by North County residents while providing enough electricity to power 40,000 homes.

Thibadeau, however, said he was confident that San Marcos officials followed proper procedures.

"We feel pretty confident that we dotted all our 'i's' and crossed all our 't's'," Thibadeau said. "And I think the judges will look at this a lot differently now that the voters have spoken. Very few judges are willing to rule against the actions of the electorate."

Moreover, Thibadeau suggested that Gaines has "another agenda," noting that the Encinitas mayor has taken steps in recent weeks to establish a joint-powers agency made up of various North County cities to open a landfill as an alternative to the trash plant.

"I think she's being very unrealistic and very unreasonable," Thibadeau said. "Mayor Gaines is not living in the real world. She has no solution to handling trash."

Recycling Promoted

Gaines, meanwhile, insists that a landfill in concert with recycling would serve as the safest and most expedient way to tackle the mounting trash crisis plaguing the county's northern reaches.

Aside from concerns about the trash plant's emissions, Gaines is worried because county officials are studying a plan to expand the San Marcos landfill into a canyon near her Olivenhain neighborhood in order to handle ash from the plant and trash that is not combustible.

Topped by a 300-foot-high smokestack, the plant will burn refuse to produce electricity. The plant will be constructed by North County Resource Recovery Associates, a private joint venture, and will process nearly all of North San Diego County's trash by recycling much of it, burying some of it and burning most of it.

The legal tussle over the trash-burning plant follows a tight vote on the issue a week ago in San Marcos. Buoyed by solid support in the city's mobile home parks, the trash plant squeaked through with 52% of the vote after a campaign that saw supporters and opponents raise nearly $100,000 to push their views.

That election might not have been held had it not been for a legal foul-up by the City of San Marcos several years ago. Although the trash plant was approved by the council in 1985, opponents filed several lawsuits contesting that action.

They prevailed on one of those suits, successfully arguing that the city failed to consider the environmental impact of a change in the General Plan leading up to its ultimate approval of the trash plant.

The court decision forced the city to once again go through the permit process, but this time the City Council decided to put the issue before the voters after the legislative hurdles were cleared.

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