The self-proclaimed, soon-to-be world’s largest landfill, surrounded on three sides by the Joshua Tree National Park, won’t be built afterall.
A consortium of Southern California garbage collection agencies dropped its plans to open the 4,000-acre dump two miles from the park after decades of legal battles that worked their way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The plan to convert an unused iron ore mine in Riverside County into a landfill before sale to the Los Angeles County Sanitation District ran afoul of environmental groups who feared it would endanger the park and protected species like bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise. They said traffic to and from the dump, hauling in up to 20,000 tons of garbage a day by train from Los Angeles 200 miles away, would ruin the delicate desert ecosystem while attracting scavengers to the site.
Kaiser Ventures LLC had operated a mine at the Eagle Mountain site since the 1940s, but proposed that it be converted to a landfill in the late 1980s. Local farmers opposed the dump and were later joined by the National Parks Conservation Association. The sanitation district entered escrow with Kaiser subsidiary Mine Reclamation Corp. in 2000 to develop the landfill, but the deal was tied up in court.
A review process produced a 1,600-page environmental impact report and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed to exchange some federal land that Kaiser needed for the project for other environmentally sensitive land held by the company.
A lawsuit was filed in federal court, alleging that the land swap violated the Administrative Procedures Act. U.S. District Judge Robert Timlin agreed with the plaintiffs in 2005, and four years later the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the deal back to BLM for retooling, although it found the land transfer itself legal. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the case in 2011.
The Kaiser subsidiary then attempted to end the escrow by rejecting an extension and was promptly sued by the sanitation district. The subsidiary immediately declared bankruptcy and the two sides began negotiations that ended last week when the district said the landfill no longer fit its long-term solid waste management plans.