On Friday Sept 20, 2013, Caltrans published on their Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project webpage new documentation for the project. On Monday Sept 23, 2013, the agency distributed a press release announcing the new documentation and the already opened public comment period. This new documentation is ostensibly in response to the April 2012 federal court order in which Caltrans was found to have been “arbitrary and capricious” in their use of “faulty data” in the environmental review documentation for the project. Caltrans has framed this new documentation as a “supplement” to the Final Environmental Assessment. Public comment on the new documentation will be received until October 21, 2013.
“Though we are still fully examining this new documentation to literally get to the root issues of how Caltrans is ignoring the substance of what the court told the agency to do in the April 2012 decision, we can immediately recognize on several fronts how Caltrans is still failing to abide by the law and provide adequate environmental review for this project that they are proposing in an extremely rare and sensitive environment,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director with the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “This irresponsibility on the part of Caltrans is a clear example of government waste,” continued Hughes, “as the inadequate project review and the failure to consider alternatives will ultimately only extend this stalemate, keeping community supported transportation and state park protection solutions out of reach.”
Amongst the deficiencies in the new documentation is the failure of the agency to act upon the order of the court stating that “(I)n its revised EA (or EIS), Caltrans should give serious consideration to the other significant arguments made by plaintiffs in their motion.” The new supplement to the environmental documentation completely fails to look at the cumulative impacts of facilitating STAA oversize truck access to North Coast communities, as well as other serious issues described in previous litigation. As EPIC has just this week filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Caltrans Hwy 197/199 STAA oversize truck project on the Smith River in Del Norte County, it is clear that Caltrans is developing large truck highway infrastructure to provide for an alternate route for Interstate 5 truck traffic down the North Coast of California on Highway 101. The cumulative impacts of increased oversize truck traffic merit analysis, yet Caltrans has refused to be forthright with North Coast residents about the direct impacts of their highway development projects on specific sensitive environments, much less been willing to engage the public on considering and understanding the cumulative impacts of increased oversize truck traffic on our regions highways and on the streets of our communities.
EPIC will continue to examine the new documentation for the Caltrans Richardson Grove project closely, and the organization will follow up in early October 2013 with an online action and technical analysis related to this documentation. It is part of the mission of the organization to provide opportunities for public comment on natural resource management issues of importance to our local communities, and to people all across the state, the nation, and the planet. The public comment deadline is October 21. The documents for the project are available at the Eureka and Garberville Branches of the Humboldt County Library, as well as online. However, to secure a paper copy of the supplement from Caltrans one has to be prepared to pay $40 to purchase the materials. Some stakeholders are already submitting comments to RichardsonGroveImprovement@dot.ca.gov to request an extension in the comment period in order that the public have sufficient opportunity to review and assess these documents and thereafter provide meaningful input.