Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Posted: 02/25/2012 02:16:10 AM PST
A federal judge presiding over a case in which the Richardson Grove realignment project is contested has issued an order for a Humboldt County federal judge to oversee the measuring of redwood trees at the site.
According to an order filed Friday, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup is requesting U.S. District Court Judge Nador Vadas, a federal judge who presides over cases in Eureka, conduct a site visit and supervise the measuring of specific redwood trees. The findings of the site visit are to be submitted by noon on March 19, according to the order.
The document indicated that the purpose of the visit, which is to be videotaped, is to allow the plaintiffs a chance to pick their six best examples of alleged “data errors” and see if the trees examined support those allegations.
”This view shall not be used by counsel to argue over environmental impacts or mitigation measures or anything other than the measurements and existence of the trees,” the order signed by Alsup states.
Caltrans spokesman Scott Burger said he could not say if site visits are a common occurrence for a court case of this nature, specifically because Caltrans does not often have cases stopping them from proceeding with projects. Alsup granted an injunction on the project in July.
”Today’s order is unusual,” Burger said. “While this is a unique project, it is not common for Caltrans to have a lawsuit preventing a project from moving forward. We stand behind our environmental document and we look forward to a positive outcome and for the project to move forward.”
The proposed project would realign portions of U.S. Highway 101 in Richardson Grove to allow larger cargo trucks to pass through narrow sections of the route.
The plaintiffs, which also include Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a motion Dec. 5 asking Alsup to require Caltrans to prepare a full environmental impact report or revise its environmental analysis before moving forward on the project.
Alsup heard from both sides at a hearing Thursday, but did not rule from the bench.
According to Friday’s order, Vadas will determine the diameter of a redwood tree alleged by Caltrans to be 84 inches and alleged by UC Berkeley forestry professor Joe McBride to be 103 inches and look at whether old growth redwood trees were omitted from Caltrans maps and its analysis, which McBride alleges in his court declaration filed by the plaintiffs.
Additionally, if the trees were omitted, Vadas is being asked to determine the diameter of the omitted trees.
The order said one or two attorneys for both sides are to be present, in addition to at least one expert, engineer or other representative from each side who can identify and measure the trees, and specify the exact location of the trees on maps.
The order requests that Vadas prepare a report and recommendation explaining the findings along with a map marking the location of the trees.
According to the order, the plaintiffs have until noon on Monday (February 27) to select five trees for measurement.
EPIC Executive Director Gary Graham Hughes said he couldn’t comment what action the plaintiffs would take next.
”It’s really important that the court have an opportunity to investigate the merits of the case,” he said.
Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or email@example.com.