The U.S. Supreme Court this week decided not hear a case about a proposed landfill along the border of Joshua Tree National Park, an area near Twentynine Palms, Calif., known for its unusual plants and unpredictable weather. For now, plans to build what many dubbed “the world’s biggest garbage dump” near the park are off the table.

Not far from Joshua Tree National Park lies an enormous gash in the earth caused by iron ore mining during much of the last century. The gash is about 1 mile wide and nearly 5 miles long. It’s no longer full of iron ore. It’s simply a big, empty hole — just the type of hole the city of Los Angeles would love to fill with trash. Some saw the hole as a place to be filled with refuse — about 20,000 tons a day for 50 years —and eventually the hole would be filled and reclaimed.

But not everyone was happy with the concept. Residents Donna and Larry Charpied opposed the dump proposal when they first heard about it in the 1980s. While land swaps between a mine reclamation company, the city of Los Angeles and the federal government were in the works, the Charpieds were at work learning the land regulatory system and fighting the swap every step of the way.

Donna Charpied and several environmental groups challenged the legalities of the land exchange. In 2005, U.S. District Judge Robert Timlin ruled that the exchange was not properly approved by the Department of Interior, which oversaw the Bureau of Land Management. An appeal was upheld by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009. Now that the Supreme Court has passed on this case, the earlier decisions remain in place.

Throughout the legal process, much of the discussion focused on the impact the landfill would have on Joshua Tree National Park. "Depositing 20,000 tons of trash per day next to Joshua Tree National Park will hurt the air quality, water quality, scenery, and natural quiet of the park and its southern gateway communities," said David Lamfrom, California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “It would also increase the population of ravens, a major predator of the federally threatened desert tortoise."

What remains is a question: what to do with all that trash? The Environmental News Service reports that the new Mesquite Regional Landfill in southern California is expected to be able to handle 20,000 tons of trash a day from Los Angeles for 100 years.

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