M&T Mine

Supervisors narrowly nix gravel pit plan

“I thought this morning was a good time to have my appendix out,” Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly joked Tuesday (Jan. 29).

It was no wonder he preferred to be under the knife more than where he was at the moment. After all, the Board of Supervisors was facing one of its most momentous, and contentious, decisions in recent years.

As it turned out, Connelly was the swing voter when the board elected to put the kibosh on Baldwin Contracting Co.’s years-long effort to locate a gravel mining operation on the 8,000-acre M&T Ranch west of Chico.

Technically, the board voted 3-2 to uphold an appeal of the county Planning Commission’s narrow approval of a use permit for the mine (also on a 3-2 vote). Last April, the board voted unanimously not to allow M&T to remove the mine site from its Land Conservation Act contract, which meant that even if approved the mine couldn’t be opened until early 2015.

The public portion of the process had ended at the board’s Jan. 8 meeting, after the supervisors heard more than seven hours’ worth of comments from proponents and opponents. Tuesday’s discussion was limited to the supervisors and lasted about 90 minutes.

As the crowd—filled with farmers, Baldwin employees and concerned citizens—looked on, the supervisors began to explain their positions. It was clear early on that the two Chico-area supervisors, Jane Dolan and Maureen Kirk, opposed the mine. The unspoken question quickly became: Would any of their colleagues join them?

Dolan and Kirk both have been outspoken about upholding the county’s responsibility to protect prime agricultural farmland and about their concern over the impact the gravel trucks would have on traffic, air quality and roads.

“I want the economy of Butte County to grow. But I don’t want it to grow at the cost of degradation to our roads and air quality. I can’t support this,” said Dolan, who eventually made the motion that killed the mine proposal.

Supervisor Curt Josiassen, whose District 4 would have included the mine, stated that, as a farmer and trucker himself, he saw no significant threat from having trucks on county roads. Paradise-area Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi said he agreed with Josiassen.

That left Connelly, from Oroville, who heretofore had been an unknown quantity. He missed the first public hearing on Nov. 6 because he was out of the state on a hunting trip, and at this month’s public hearing, his comments were short and his questions few. But Tuesday his impact was huge.

“I have remained relatively quiet,” Connelly told the board. “This has been a difficult decision. I like truck drivers. I’m not against mining.”

But the fact that the project wouldn’t even get going for several years bothered him. “I just can’t mitigate in my mind eight or six years in advance,” he said. Conditions could change before that time, possibly affecting the true impact the mine would have on the community.

Once Connelly cast his vote, opponents of the mine embraced one other and rejoiced.

“It was a hard decision for them to make,” said Lila Prentice, whose almond orchard lies adjacent to M&T Ranch. “But it’s just the wrong location for a gravel mine.”

Even Baldwin’s general manager, Rene J. Vercruyssen, could find a silver lining in the decision. “We are obviously disappointed,” he said, “but thrilled this process is finally over.”