Rocks in their heads

On Jan. 25, the Butte County Planning Commission will again discuss Baldwin Contracting Co.'s proposal to construct a large open-pit gravel mine west of Chico, along Little Chico Creek near the Sacramento River, on land owned by the M&T Ranch. The project has been controversial since its inception 10 years ago, which is part of the reason it’s still seeking approval.

By its very nature, a gravel pit is environmentally destructive, and this one is no exception. The issue is whether the need for the gravel is sufficient to make the costs tolerable. That has not been determined.

As the CN&R documented in a Dec. 21 Newslines article, “Rolling rocks,” the costs are fairly clear: Some 235 acres of good farm land would be lost. There is also a danger that Little Chico Creek could flood and cause downstream pollution of the Llano Seco Ranch. And the land would be replaced—after 20 to 30 years of intense mining—with a small lake of questionable ecological value.

Just as significant, the project would generate thousands upon thousands of road-pummeling truck trips, most of them routed through Chico.

And the need for the mine? That is far less certain. So far the county seems to be taking Baldwin’s word for it that the gravel is needed for future road building. But opponents have insisted that plenty of rock is available from existing nearby mines—gravel that doesn’t have to be trundled through city streets to reach its destinations.

The Planning Commission absolutely must determine who’s correct here. If the mine is not needed, it shouldn’t be built.