Caltrans is merely a tool of policymakers

The federal judge’s ruling in the Richardson Grove case is a game-changer.

It is therefore unfortunate that the Redwood Times (4/10) and Times-Standard has joined Caltrans and the county to obscure the real consequences of, and development agendas associated with, the project to facilitate STAA truck traffic through our precious Richardson Grove State Park.

The ruling focused on the shortcomings of Caltrans’ environmental evaluations, especially with respect to old growth redwood trees survival, and suggested a similarly capricious approach to other significant issues. It seems reasonable to expect Caltrans’ revised Environmental Assessment to lead to a full Environmental Impact Statement (federal) and a re-circulated Environmental Impact Report (state), which should cause policymakers to consider better alternatives.

As a complement to the Richardson Grove project, Caltrans is currently planning on widening U.S. Highway 199 through Del Norte County (alongside the Wild and Scenic Smith River), and State Highway 299 in Trinity County (alongside the Wild and Scenic Trinity River) to close the loop connecting Highway 101 to I-5 for large diesel trucks. Willits is to be bypassed with a highly destructive aerial causeway over fragile wetlands, the 101 corridor between Arcata and Eureka will become a freeway, Waterfront Drive in Eureka will be widened to accommodate STAA trucks.

Caltrans is deliberately, and illegally, ignoring any cumulative impacts from this 101-I-5 loop, despite acknowledging them in, and later excising them from, earlier draft proposals for these projects.

It should be obvious that the Caltrans Richardson Grove project is not just designed so that bigger trucks can come to Humboldt and turn around and go back. It should also be obvious that the large national and international trucking industries, and sprawl development, will be the primary beneficiaries, to the detriment of our quality of life.

WalMart and Home Depot, both of which have lobbied hard for the Richardson Grove and 199 projects, use their profit margins to squeeze out local competition. They depend on numerous, rapid, reliable transports of huge volumes of whatever to make billions on pennies saved, not just from cheaper transport costs, but also from low wages and benefits.

Local truckers warn of additional increased large through-truck traffic diverted from I-5, especially during winter conditions that force truckers on sections of I-5 to put chains on and take them off as many as seven times.

EPIC, the Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, and a few courageous individual plaintiffs, have shown us that development dependent on outdated technologies and perspectives is not inevitable, that a better way is possible. Fortunately, we are not alone. Imagine a four-lane Highway I with multiple connecting links to 101, and massive Orange County-style planned communities in rural areas and quiet beach towns? That’s what the California Coastal Commission stopped in the 1970s and ’80s, resulting in major parkland acquisitions as speculative real estate was sold to the state, to our collective benefit.

Caltrans is merely a tool of policymakers. The federal court’s ruling, and successful challenges to these other proposed boondoggles, bode well for more progressive and appropriate development, based on the efficient transport of goods and an economy that depends upon nourishing a thriving natural environment rather than replacing it with sprawl.

Ken Miller

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