By Doug Page
On Aug. 9, the Fresno County Planning Commission voted 6-1 to approve a corporate agribusiness application that will permanently destroy 880 acres of peach and nectarine farm in the Sanger River Bottom to mine sand and gravel and produce asphalt and cement.
The applicant, Gerawan, the largest grower and shipper of peaches and nectarines in the world with thousands of acres of fruit orchards in the area, persuaded the Planning Commission to ignore more than 100 attendees who opposed the project, that prime food growing land will be permanently destroyed, that air pollution in Fresno County would be made worse and that added truck traffic will adversely affect the safety of schoolchildren and the traveling public.
Gerawan hired a skillful public relations person, Mike Mallery, to prepare the mining proposal. Mallery spent two years assembling a number of mining experts, underground water experts, planning experts and lawyers, who prepared presentations that falsely emphasized the paramount public need for sand, gravel, cement and asphalt as being more urgent than the public need for food, clean air and water and traffic safety. At least 13 such experts appeared at the public hearing, which is required by law. It is estimated that Gerawan spent $2.5 million persuading the Planning staff, the Planning Commissioners and, probably, the Fresno County Supervisors to approve this mine.
Gerawan’s presentation relied on estimates made by the State of California in 2006 that predicted the need for construction gravel for future years. Gerawan and the public planners relied on this old data and not on the conditions that exist now:
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared 1,000 counties in 26 states that constitute America’s “bread basket” as agricultural disaster areas, adversely affecting the supply and price of corn, wheat and soybeans.
- Drought in Russia, Ukraine and Syria has ruined the grain crops there.
- Fresno already has the seventh worst air quality in the nation, and the dust and diesel fumes will be made worse by mining and cement and asphalt production.
The Planning Commission approved mining in 22 40-acre parcels to a depth of 50 feet, thus exposing more than a square mile of underground water to pollution and evaporation. Gerawan promised that the banks of these many ponds of water would be kept free of grass or other ground cover that would attract birds.
The agricultural land that is being permanently destroyed has prized features that make it some of the best food growing land on earth:
- The river bottom soil is fertile.
- The mild climate is excellent for food growing.
- The highest priority diversion of irrigation water from the Kings River provides almost free water between March and November. (The author knows this because he farms 45 acres two miles downstream on the same ditches. He lives next door to the ditch tender, who schedules his turns for water.)
- There are underground pipes in place to irrigate the crops. All one has to do is to reach down and turn on a valve and the free water flows.
- This 880-acre parcel can produce an immense quantity of vegetables, corn, beans, soybeans, potatoes, sweet potatoes and peanuts in a short time.
Neither the State of California nor Fresno County has any policy or law protecting our food supply. California does have laws that tend to protect agricultural land and farmers but nothing expressly safeguarding food for human beings.
California policies are contradictory. The California Department of Natural Resources established Mineral Resource Zones (MRZs) throughout California a few years ago. Shortsighted though it may seem now, the entire 25,000 acres of the fertile river bottom of the Kings River were designated as an MRZ. Those concerned about food security, health and environment label the Kings River MRZ a “sacrifice zone.”
Be alert for the next hearing, yet to be announced, before the Board of Supervisors and plan to attend and speak out against this corporate idiocy.
For further information on the adverse effects of the mining project, visit www.friendsofthekingsriver.org.
Doug Page is a former lawyer for unions in the Bay Area, long “retired” and now operating Page River Bottom Farm, which is devoted to sustainable grass-fed cattle, sheep, pigs, meat chickens and laying hens using no chemicals feeding, no GMO grains and no soybeans. Contact Doug firstname.lastname@example.org.