Sneaky Caltrans Avoids Public Comment on Richardson Grove

Caltrans is once again renewing its assault on the ancient redwoods in Richardson Grove State Park.  With their current conclusion of “findings of no significant impact” they are attempting to modify their original Environmental Impact Report without allowing for the re-opening of public comment. We cannot let them get away with it!

Caltrans is using a disordered process. In previous lawsuits filed by defenders of the redwoods and public land, the court found Caltrans was not in sync with existing law in reviewing impacts. This time around, Caltrans gathered together documents, new and old, (old documents from the previous shot-down proposal), attempting to either sneak through or ram through woefully inadequate documents in what the plaintiffs called a “disordered and informal process” that is not in keeping with the law. They gave this process their own stamp of approval on May 22, 2017. 

Caltrans is exhibiting an obsession with this project. Conceived in 1994 and first proposed in 2007, with an EIR* released in 2008 that received a large volume of comments, overwhelmingly opposing the highway expansion. After the final EIR came out in 2010, environmentalists filed a state lawsuit based on CEQA*, and then a federal lawsuit based on NEPA* 

The current lawsuit just filed in State Court by EPIC*, the Center for Biological Diversity, CATS, et al, cites specific violations of CEQA, which governs development that could affect the environment, at the state level), including: 

  • Failure to prepare and adopt an adequate EIR
  • Invalid use of an addendum  
  • Failure to provide the public its right of review 
  • Failure to evaluate significant environmental impacts 
  • Failure to evaluate and adopt feasible alternatives 
  • Failure to adequate disclose and evaluate cumulative impacts 
  • Failure to adopt mitigation measures or a mitigation monitoring plan  
  • Failure to adopt findings of the court

The lawsuit states:

“Caltrans proposes to engage in a multimillion dollar project and to endanger the survival of giant old-growth redwoods that have towered over the area for millennia, not to solve any safety issues, but rather to let an unknown number of bigger commercial trucks pass through a one mile stretch of road without the hassle of seeking an exemption. The short-sightedness of this Proposed Project is dumbfounding; and Caltrans review of it is contrary to state law.”  

The ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove, and indeed, the associated other plant and animal species that share the forest are a precious, irreplaceable and valuable beyond words part of the natural environment, and have a right to exist for their own sake as well as for future generations to experience.  

The Proposed Project contradicts Caltrans’ own acknowledgment of “the importance of redwoods.” The ancient redwoods in Richardson Grove State Park are protected trees, within which State Parks declares “it is impossible to install a new facility without causing damage.” Accordingly, State Parks further advises that:  

“There should be no construction activities in the Structural Root Zone of a protected tree … Any Intrusion into this zone is usually accompanied by significant injury to roots further from the trunk; this will shorten the useful life of the tree in the developed area by reducing vigor and introducing root disease. Furthermore, damage to any structural roots may cause an already structurally compromised tree to become hazardous.”  

Below are talking points you can use to communicate your opinions to Caltrans, to your elected representatives, and to spread the word about the need to stop this project. We need to put the brakes on Caltrans!

Flawed justification:  When Caltrans first proposed the Richardson Grove Highway Expansion Project, they argued it was needed on safety grounds. After that was shown to be baseless, they dropped that premise. Caltrans’ only justification this time around for this project, which clearly carries grave threats to the State Park, the forest and the ancient redwood trees themselves is to allow over-sized big rig trucks known as “STAA* trucks”. But this justification is flawed because these larger trucks already travel through this stretch of highway 101 through exemptions given by the state. Granting additional exemptions is not analyzed as an alternative, as required in the project proposal process.

Failure to pursue less impactful alternatives:  Lowering the speed limit through the Grove, a sound idea obvious to anyone who has traveled through Richardson Grove, on the grounds of safety as well as in recognition of the proximity of the paved road to the massive trunks of these ancient trees is also not analyzed as an alternative.

Failure to honestly and scientifically analyze impacts to ancient redwoods: It is not unreasonable to presume that the huge, old trees towering over this stretch of highway 101 are already heavily impacted by the pavement of the road coming right up to their massive trunks, covering a good portion of their root system, so any further impact would have even more serious repercussions. Impact from pavement, compaction and digging around the roots of redwoods is made especially severe because redwoods, unlike other large trees, do not have tap roots to stabilize them, but rather have a lateral, spreading root system close to the surface to take advantage of moisture that the tall branches capture and drip down to the root zone. 

Failure to adequately consider impacts to Coho Salmon:  The watershed of the South Fork of the Eel River, including its tributaries, is designated critical habitat under the ESA for the SONCC Coho. All of the work Caltrans is proposing to do is upslope for the South Fork of the Eel River. 

No meaningful assessment of the cumulative effects: Increased truck traffic and resulting development and increased sprawl needs to be analyzed. In addition, there is less need for this project now that upgrades have been made to highway 299, connecting 101 and I-5.  

There are many other repair and mitigation projects that should have higher priority, that the public supports and wants its tax monies directed toward. (For example, massive slides in Big Sur, Last Chance Grade in Humboldt County, and perpetual slides on northern highway 101, plus many others, particularly after this past winter.) 

The proposed project absolutely does not have our stamp of approval, and there is no amount of mitigation or legal concessions that could make it right. Please let Caltrans and your elected representatives know how you feel about this project.

Write to:

Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans Director
Caltrans.Director@dot.ca.gov
1120 N St., MS49
Sacramento, CA  95814 

 

Brian Kelley
Secretary of Calif. State Transportation Agency
contact.us@calsta.ca.gov
915 Capital Mall, Ste. 350B
Sacramento, CA 95814 

Also, contact YOUR representatives: Find your rep at http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov

 

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