How about that Enloe site?

A piece of property that was ruled out as a site for Chico’s fourth high school is making a return appearance that has local environmental activists grinning.

It’s a chunk of land owned by Enloe Health Systems that doesn’t seem to be stacked out-of-bounds with endangered Butte County meadowfoam and fairy shrimp and, at first glance, looks like some of it may already have the federal permits for some form of development.

“We have encouraged the school district for over two years to look more seriously [at Enloe’s land],” said Barbara Vlamis, general manager of the Butte Environmental Council, “knowing that it was permitted and the impacts were much lighter on the environment.”

In giving the go-ahead last month for an environmental-impact report on the already-selected site near Bruce Road and East 20th St., the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees directed the firm Jones & Stokes of Sacramento to give equal attention to three more locations.

Two of those, as is the first-choice site, are owned by the Schmidbauer family of Eureka. The final site is owned by another familiar name: Enloe.

Enloe owns 250 acres along Bruce Road, said Linda Tucker, public-relations coordinator for Enloe Health Systems. She passed along information from Phil Wolfe, Enloe’s president and chief executive officer, that Enloe’s in no hurry either to build on or unload its land.

“We are evaluating at this time what to do with that piece of property,” Tucker said. “We realize that the property is going up in value, and we’re trying to maximize a return on our investment. We’re not really sure if it’s for sale. We’re not really trying to sell it. We’re just looking at the options.”

Mike Weissenborn, facilities planner for the CUSD, said that in the coming weeks the district will pick 50 acres’ worth of Enloe’s property and direct Jones & Stokes to focus the EIR there. (Fifty acres is the minimum amount of land the state requires for a high school.)

“We made it kind of a generic Enloe site,” Weissenborn explained. “By the time we get to the specifics we will have a location narrowed down for them to do the analysis on.”

Two different parcels of land owned by Enloe were considered during the site-selection process, when a committee rated and ranked sites and submitted three to the CUSD Board of Trustees for approval, which in turn asked the state for its OK. One of the Enloe sites—77 acres near Bruce Road and 20th Street—didn’t even make it to the rate-and-rank stage because the district apparently was led to believe Enloe wanted to build an acute-care facility there. That would have effectively taken much of the land off the market and also, because of the helicopters that would use the facility, create a “conflict of uses.”

But Enloe long ago scrapped its plans to build a new hospital. Weissenborn said that, when the district approached Enloe’s nonprofit board about the parcel a couple of years ago, the CUSD was told the hospital wanted to hold onto it.

The other parcel—165 acres near Humboldt and Bruce roads—fared better and became the committee’s third choice after two Schmidbauer sites. This Enloe site’s problems include the fact that a conservation easement, Chico’s Greenline and historic rock walls border it. It also carried an estimated price tag of $2.4 million, plus the cost to move high-voltage power lines that bisect the property.

Now, explains Weissenborn, the district will get an objective look—via the EIR—at how developable each of the four sites is. “I would like to know which areas are not constrained,” he said.

Besides looking into toxics issues related to the Humboldt burn dump, Weissenborn has contacted the Army Corps of Engineers to see if the wetlands permits already secured by Enloe in anticipation of its now-abandoned building plans could help in the CUSD’s quest. The property has been through the Section 7 consultation to address the presence of meadowfoam as required by the Endangered Species Act and also holds a Section 404 permit for wetlands issues.

“I want to know exactly what [the permit] is and exactly what areas it covers,” Weissenborn said.

Vlamis is more optimistic that the 40 acres of permitted land could be the answer to Chico’s desire for a new high school without hurting the environment. As to why the district didn’t look more closely at the Enloe property sooner, she speculated, "I would guess they were looking for cheaper land."