Gravel mine plan at M&T Ranch revised

After getting the thumbs-down from county officials six years ago, a Chico contractor has resubmitted his proposal for a 235-acre gravel mine on the outskirts of Chico.

Rene Vercruyssen, president of Baldwin Contracting, wants to build a long-term gravel mine on the M&T Chico Ranch at Ord Ferry Road and River Road, five miles southwest of the city limits.

Butte County planning commissioners tabled Vercruyssen’s proposal in 1996 after neighbors of the mine site wrote more than 50 letters protesting the project. Residents were worried that traffic congestion in the area would cause air and noise pollution and that the site, located on a flood plain near the Sacramento River and Little Chico Creek, would contribute to flood conditions and harm groundwater quality.

County planners said they thought the environmental impact report did not adequately assess the neighbors’ concerns, and Baldwin went back to the drawing table.

This time around, the project’s new EIR addresses flooding issues and proposes mitigation that would prevent the area from becoming waterlogged. But there are still elements of the project that would harm the environment.

“There are impacts that were found to be significant and unavoidable in regards to air quality and traffic concerns,” Butte County Senior Planner Dan Breedon said.

If Vercruyssen were allowed to build concrete “batch” plants on the mine property, Breedon said, emissions from idling vehicles would create a carbon monoxide “hot spot” under Butte County Air Quality Management District standards.

Because of the potential for significant air pollution, Breedon said, the Planning Commission will not allow batch plants at the mine site. Vercruyssen is willing to go without on-site concrete plants, but he wants the option of building them if the county changes its air pollution policies during the 20-30 years his mine would be operating.

Breedon said that, even without on-site plants, traffic impacts are “significant and unavoidable” under Vercruyssen’s plan. The intersection of West Fifth Street and Hwy. 32 would be busier, with the addition of more than 10 trips per day by heavy vehicles, and traffic conditions on Park Avenue, East Park Avenue, Bruce Road, The Skyway and Baldwin Plant Driveway would be worsened.

Public comment on the project is open until Nov. 25, and a copy of the project’s EIR can be viewed at the county’s Web site,