City to ‘weigh in’ on gravel mine

Opponents of a proposed gravel mine off River Road near the Sacramento River got a major ally Tuesday (Jan. 2), when the Chico City Council voted unanimously to have Mayor Andy Holcombe send a letter to county officials expressing their apprehensions about the mine’s impacts.

As detailed in our story “Rolling rocks” (Newslines, Dec. 21), Chico’s Baldwin Contracting Co. wants to mine some 235 acres of land along Little Chico Creek that it would lease from the M&T Ranch. The company, the county’s largest road builder, says it wants the rock to meet road-building needs into the future. The county Planning Commission is currently considering the proposal.

The land is zoned for farming—it has about 15 feet of topsoil covering the gravel layer—and protected by the Williamson Act. Neighbors and environmentalists charge that the mine would take good farm land out of production and create a potential source of pollution in an area near the Sacramento River where significant conservation efforts are being made. The site’s neighbor to the south is the 18,000-acre Llano Seco Ranch, all of which is in ag or conservation easements.

Besides, they say, the mine isn’t needed. Plenty of gravel is available from other mines within a 30-mile radius of Chico.

What especially concerned councilmembers were the project’s potential impacts on Chico. As Councilman Steve Bertagna, who had asked that the matter be put on the agenda, noted, the city should “weigh in” on the issue because of the potential impact of a stream of 80,000-pound trucks on city streets.

Because of the location of Baldwin’s processing plant, on The Skyway just past Honey Run Road, and because most road construction in the Chico area takes place on the city’s east side, Baldwin plans to route most of its trucks from the west side of town through the urban area to the east side.

How many trucks that would be and where they would go were unclear—and that bothered councilmembers. Fritz McKinley, the city’s director of engineering, gave a figure of eight trucks per hour coming in via West Fifth Street but was unsure whether that was for 10 hours per day or more.

“Baldwin is looking at a 10-hour work day,” he said, “but the EIR says it could go 24 hours in an emergency.” Councilmembers also wondered what would keep the drivers from going wherever they wanted.

Ron Jones, who owns a farm next to the proposed site, noted that those eight trucks would have to return to the site, making the total 16 trucks per hour on West Fifth Street. Wouldn’t it be better to bring gravel in on the freeway from mines north of Chico, he asked, rather than having them going down such streets as Walnut and Ninth and Park Avenue?

The council heard from several people expressing similar sentiments, including John Merz, director of the Sacramento River Preservation Trust. Noting the project was the county’s to approve or deny, councilmembers voted unanimously to have staff draft a letter for the mayor to sign expressing their concerns about traffic impacts and damage to city streets.