Gravel mine would be the pits

Maria Phillips, partner in Avenue 9 Gallery, received her Ph.D. in art history with an emphasis in architecture and urban planning from UCLA. A Durham resident for 15 years, she moved to Chico in 2005.

How much does emotion have to do with assessing the worthiness of a project that once put into motion will affect our environment and quality of life in perpetuity? Plenty. The proposed M&T/Baldwin gravel mine would irrevocably damage the environmentally protected Llano Seco Ranch five miles west of Chico. It would also transform the city of Chico into a truck pipeline to supply building sites off Highway 99 east of Chico.

Baldwin Contracting would have us believe that gravel from this mine is essential to the growth of Butte County. Far from fulfilling any compelling need, objective reports show that there is plenty of construction-grade gravel at low cost available to the county to cover our gravel needs for the foreseeable future. The site chosen for this mine is simply opportunistic: This land for years has been designated as prime farmland to garner its owners property-tax relief; now the owners want to develop it.

Opponents of the mine are accused by proponents of being emotional. But I think it is Baldwin and M&T who are using emotions in a well-honed and calculated campaign appealing to fear and greed, promising economic benefits that are vague and unquantifiable. Driven by the passion of our convictions, we the people are actually driven by facts.

Fact is, the final environmental impact report (FEIR) is incomplete and ought not to be certified: It does not give any engineering details of the weirs and bypass channels that would have to be constructed to control flood waters.

Fact is, that area floods badly and frequently, and the kinds of silt produced by the mine would damage important wildlife habitat, especially in the area of the vast Llano Seco Ranch.

Fact is, there is not such a pressing need for gravel in Butte County that we would have to sacrifice a national treasure of the likes of our Sacramento riverscape for the sum-total benefit of low-cost aggregate. The FEIR also does not state the real costs to the community in road repairs.

Development is squeezing Chico, and we’d have to be automatons not to feel it. I am reminded of another EIR, the one for the Meriam Park project that is at present in the hands of the Chico Planning Commission, a different planning commission from the gravel project. This project, too, will have severe impacts on traffic—and will need gravel. It’s east of Highway 99, not west. The proposed mine is in the wrong place.

I think we’d all better offer up our intellect, our common sense, and our emotions to make sure that all our planning doesn’t inadvertently kill all that is special about Chico and its proud resources.