Casino concerns elemental, environmental

Paul McIntosh is the chief administrative officer for Butte County.

Editor’s note: At Tuesday’s meeting (Aug. 1), the Chico City Council will consider opening negotiations with the Mechoopda Indians to provide public-safety services at the proposed casino-- a move opposed by Butte County officials.

Much has been written and said about Butte County’s opposition to a casino north of Highway 149, about one mile east of the intersection with Highway 99. This has become somewhat of an emotionally charged issue, but Butte County’s opposition is based upon objective information, not emotions. The proposed site is an unacceptable location for any type of intensive development. Butte County’s opposition is not limited to a casino proposal, but would be the same for any use with such significant impacts.

Although there are myriad concerns and questions associated with the proposal, such as the distance to public-safety services and impacts on open lands and grazing, Butte County’s primary concerns relate to impacts on traffic safety, groundwater, wastewater treatment and flood control.

As designed, the development would require a new left-turn lane and signals at the new intersection of Shippee Road along Highway 149. Upwards of $130 million in tax dollars are currently being spent to improve Highway 149 into a four-lane expressway connecting highways 70 and 99. Most people are aware of the high number of horrible accidents that have occurred along this corridor. This project would recreate the types of hazards current improvements are designed to fix.

Then there are the impacts not easily observable. The proposed site sits within a flood plain and the recharge area of the Tuscan Aquifer in an area with shallow groundwater. There are potential impacts on water supply, water quality and flood control. Concerns have been expressed about an inadequate fresh groundwater supply from the aquifer, potential saline water intrusion, reduced recharge infiltration, degradation of water quality, and significant downstream flooding.

The site is far removed from any wastewater treatment facility; development would require on-site treatment of sewage. This development proposes to use 92,000 cubic yards of fill, reducing the capacity of the flood plain. This development increases the amount of drainage runoff and is expected to generate an amount of sewage similar to a town of 4,500 residents. Discharge from the site will flow to the Cherokee Canal. Last year, floodwaters nearly overtopped the canal’s levees. Overtopping the levees has the potential for a devastating flood in the town of Richvale.

Butte County has repeatedly advised representatives of the casino project of these concerns and pledged to work with those representatives to find an acceptable location for their project. Is Butte County being obstructionist? That is one perspective. Another is that the county’s role as a steward of the public’s health and safety demands no less.