Diverse Community Needs Alternative to Richardson Grove Plan

Diverse and energetic opposition to Caltrans’ project to alter Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park emerged Monday with a well-attended rally and non-violent civil disobedience resulting in 12 arrests. The actions, held at the offices of Caltrans District 1 in Eureka, were organized by the Richardson Grove Action Now group and attracted over 200 people and multiple media outlets that covered the event.

The rally Monday represented much more than the mostly student contingent, that staged the civil disobedience. A broad diversity of voices in the group were united with a single goal that shook the offices of Caltrans in the form of a chant that rang out throughout the rally: “One Demand: Cancel the Plan!”

A range of people involved in the Coalition to Protect Richardson were asked to speak into the microphone during the rally, to offer brief words of inspiration, songs, and accurate information about the project to the crowd. One of the speakers, Barbara Kennedy, has been working to educate the public about the project since Caltrans began drawing up plans, back in 2007. Her words for the crowd were spoken in a characteristically measured tone, but the crowd’s enthusiasm grew as she spoke. Kennedy’s words of insight were followed by a long time Piercy resident named Cheri Porter, who explained the adverse impacts that businesses in the town of expect, should the project proceed.

In summary, Porter explained, “Every business in Piercy will be negatively impacted, if not destroyed through this project.  We just can’t afford it.  With two lumber mills closing in our community, we depend on tourism to survive and this project will hurt that.”

Withstanding debate between the needs of export-reliant businesses and the many voices of opposition to the project, most people agree that the State Park must not be harmed. This resolute stance by many in Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond may outweigh vocal beneficiaries of the project, like Sun Valley Group Inc. and Emmi Holding Inc.’s Cypress Grove Cheese Company. Until now, these companies and a handful of others have seen no other alternative to fulfill their transportation needs then the widening of 101 through Richardson Grove State Park for larger truck access.

With only a few months before planned construction and a swelling number of defiant activists becoming involved in fighting the project, the time has come to identify an agreeable alternative and push for its implementation. The two sides of the debate could find common ground, by identifying a plausible solution to satisfy a few businesses’ shipping needs but without completing an expensive and risky construction project in the old growth redwood grove within the State Park. One immediate alternative to Caltrans’ Richardson Grove plan would be a new legislative exemption to allow certain industries to run larger trucks through the grove.  This could both offer relief to businesses burdened by expensive shipping costs and preserve the community of ancient trees for future generations.

Currently, cattle trucks are allowed through the grove, even though the trucks’ longer trailers exceed the 48 foot kingpin to rear axle restriction.  If new legislation was introduced that allowed for a permanent exemption for additional trucks, perhaps the heated debate of “trucks versus trees” could be resolved.

Meanwhile, the campaign is growing.

EPIC’s campaign to protect Richardson Grove State Park has gathered thousands of postcards to stop the project, mailed “activist packets” to campaign supporters across the state and hosted well-attended educational forums.  With the Californians for Alternatives to Toxins, the Center for Biological Diversity and five citizen plaintiffs, EPIC also filed two lawsuits challenging the project on legal merits.

The first of these lawsuits charges that the Environmental Impact Report prepared for this project does not meet California Environmental Quality Act standards, and that the project is unnecessary because equivalent trucks pass through the grove every day, without incident. The Federal case cites violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The attorneys representing the plaintiff group include Sharon Duggan, Kevin Bundy and the esteemed Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy law firm. Former US Congressman Pete McCloskey and other well-known California public figures have also come forward opposing the plan, and supporting EPIC’s legal and campaign strategy.

Throughout the last year, over 35,000 people took online actions protesting the plan, and that number will continue to grow. As more people learn that the treasured, ancient trees marking the entrance to the redwood region face a risky construction project by Caltrans, the opposition will grow with the numbers of people informed. Social networking sites like Facebook help viral messages like these extend to unlimited numbers of potential supporters. Already, the Save Richardson Grove FB page has 1670 members, and this is without any assertive campaign to promote the social site.

Now campaign organizers are discussing proposals for massive rallies, action camps, major concerts and other big events to attract activists from around the state to show their strong opposition to Caltrans and the plan to widen 101 through Richardson Grove. All of these efforts could be redirected if either Caltrans cancels their project voluntarily, or another alternative with California lawmakers can be reached quickly.

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