Mine games

Baldwin strikes with big ‘green’ ad

EARTH-FRIENDLY MINE?<br>This recent full-page ad touting the M&amp;T mine as a “sustainable thing to do” has its opponents expecting a full-fledged media onslaught in coming months.

This recent full-page ad touting the M&T mine as a “sustainable thing to do” has its opponents expecting a full-fledged media onslaught in coming months.

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, Baldwin Contracting Co. is hoping that a full-page advertisement is worth a multi-million-dollar gravel mining project.

The ad, which appeared in the Sunday (May 20) issue of the Chico Enterprise-Record, was much on the minds of people who showed up for a scheduled county Board of Supervisors hearing on the mine two days later, on Tuesday.

The project is strongly opposed by neighbors and others, and the hearing was to consider their appeals of the county Planning Commission’s earlier certification of the environmental-impact report on the proposed M&T mine and approval of a use permit.

As everyone was aware, however, Baldwin was asking to postpone the hearing to Aug. 14. Opponents worried that the company, which is owned by KRC, a large, deep-pocketed Midwestern corporation, was going to spend the time conducting a huge public-relations campaign. They wanted to go ahead with the hearing, figuring time was on their side.

Just three weeks ago, on May 8, they got a big boost when the supervisors unanimously refused to remove the proposed site from its Williamson Act contract. As a result, Baldwin can’t begin mining until that contract expires, in December 2014.

The company, which has been seeking approval of the project for more than a decade already, seems willing to wait. In the meantime, and perhaps realizing that to this point it has been losing the battle of public opinion, it ran the ad.

Interestingly, Baldwin is now trying to sell the mine as the “green” and “sustainable” way to go. With a site closer than current ones—the company gets most of its gravel from Glenn County—company trucks won’t have to drive as far and use as much fuel, so the site will “reduce global warming.”

The ad also contains a contact phone number for community questions. It reaches an automated recording where a caller can leave a message with questions or concerns. Messages left by the CN&R were not returned by press time.

Baldwin had asked that Tuesday’s hearing be postponed because its general manager, Rene J. Vercruyssen, could not be present.

Some opponents were skeptical. “This is the real reason Baldwin has asked for a continuance: They are getting the big guns out—they will be bombarding people with ads from now until the continuance,” said avid project opponent Maria Philips in an e-mail response to the advertisement.

Community member Roger Beadle agrees, charging at the hearing that the continuance was simply a public-relations strategy.

“Maybe this ad is just the beginning of a three-month … public-relations campaign to convince us that we’re stupid. I think the real reason for the continuance is this ad,” said Beadle, holding it up for the board to see.

Supervisor Bill Connelly replied that continuances were “not unusual” and that this was simply “standard operating procedure” on such issues.

Baldwin’s ad is not the first dealing with the gravel mine project. Key opponents ran their own ad in the E-R on April 22.

Sandy Jones, who with her husband, Ron Jones, owns an almond farm bordering the proposed site off River Road five miles west of Chico, said their advertisement was a joint venture to create public awareness and educate people about the project. The ad was sponsored by the Joneses, the Butte Environmental Council and the Prentices, a fellow farming family with property that also borders the M&T Ranch.

The two-thirds-page ad called the gravel pit project a “disastrous proposal” that is “unnecessary, incompatible, inconsistent, expensive and unaffordable.” Jones reckoned Baldwin’s ad was designed to counter it.

Jeff Carter, an attorney for Baldwin, said in a phone interview that Baldwin’s advertisement was intended to be a public education tool, much like the opponents’ ad. “We wanted to offer information that may not have previously gotten through.”

Carter said the advertisement was generated by Bronwyn Weaver, an independent consultant hired by KRC. Weaver has assisted Baldwin on other matters, Carter said, and the advertisement she worked on with Baldwin was meant to “make known the benefits” of the proposed gravel mine.

Whether the continuance will induce more advertisements is still unclear. The hearing is now set for November 6, so as not to conflict with almond and walnut harvests. Jones says that she has not discussed running any more ads at this point. Weaver had not returned an e-mail message at press time.