The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has made several attempts to initiate projects to widen the access through Richardson Grove. An attempt was made in 2001 when CalTrans presented several alternatives all of which were very costly and failed to garner public support.
The current project was publicly announced in September 2007. Caltrans believed that with the use of a specialized engineering software package they had created a less costly and less damaging alternative to increase access by Interstate-size big-rig trucks (called STAA trucks).
Grassroots opposition immediately formed. The opponents were particularly infuriated by the Caltrans position that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was not a necessity because Caltrans was convinced that there was to be no significant impact to the Grove from the project. This ignited a letter writing campaign by opponents to the local newspapers, media, elected officials and also to the California Transportation Commission. At least 5,000 postcards opposing the project were sent to the California Governor and the California Transportation Commission.
Seemingly as a result of this campaign, Caltrans announced that it would be creating a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR.) This document was released to the public on December 8, 2008. Eight hundred (800) comment letters were submitted, the great majority in opposition to the project and citing flaws in the Caltrans analysis. A public hearing was held on December 15, 2008 to take verbal testimony allowing opponents barely a week to digest the document. The comment period was advertised to end on January 30, 2009 but due to procedural missteps by Caltrans, it had to be extended until March, 2009.
Very substantive comment letters opposing the project were submitted by a host of environmental organizations including EPIC, State Parks, the Northcoast Environmental Center, the California State Parks Foundation and others. In May, 2010 Caltrans issued its Final EIR with the plan essentially unchanged and with little substantive response to the comments and concerns of the public.
The project opponents were marginalized by their elected officials. State Assemblyperson Wes Chesbro, State Senator Pat Wiggins and Humboldt County Board of Supervisors turned a deaf ear to the concerns, preferring to advocate on the behalf of Caltrans and local business interests. The Headwaters Fund, created as part of the famous Headwaters Settlement to compensate for jobs lost due to restrictions on logging, granted the County $50,000 to promote the project
Having exhausted all avenues of peaceful protest save direct action, opponents turned to the Courts. An action contesting the adequacy of the EIR and citing violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was filed in June 2010 in California Superior Court. A companion lawsuit was filed in September, 2010 in Federal Court alleging violations of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
As part of the Federal action, the plaintiffs (the Environmental Protection Information Center-EPIC, the Center for Biological Diversity-CBD and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics-CATS) hired a forestry expert to review the Caltrans analysis of the effects on the redwood ecosystem. The expert’s findings were instrumental in the Federal Judge’s decision to issue a Preliminary Injunction to halt the project until a trial could be held on the issued. The trial date has been set for February 23, 2012.
Activists continue to formulate strategies and plans to oppose the project. Please take action here to send a message to California’s legislators, the Governor, and the Director of California’s State Parks.
Time Line For Richardson Grove Project
1994 – Caltrans Route 101Concept Plan published – 4-lane highway from Sonoma-Mendo border to Oregon
2001 – Caltrans presents alternate routes in and around Richardson Grove – abandons plans as too expensive, no public support
Confusion Hill project eliminates STAA “chokepoint” leaving Richardson Grove the existing “chokepoint” in the south – the Big Lagoon project eliminates northern “chokepoint” allowing STAA access from the north
2003 – Headwaters Fund makes $50,000 grant to Humboldt County Economic Development Department (HCEDD) to promote project
2007 – Caltrans rescinds $98,000 grant to Humboldt County to study goods movement alternatives due to discovery of software that will design road realignment
September 2007 – Caltrans announces Richardson Grove “Improvement” Project (RIP) project in Benbow
January 2008 - HCEDD publishes on-line survey to businesses in Humboldt and Del Norte relating to transportation costs – 19 businesses respond with unvetted data
January 2008 – HCEDD funds a luncheon for business owners to promote project
January 2008 – HCEDD hires PR firm to work with 6 business owners to create “My Word” editorial opinion pieces that run in the Times-Standard
February 2008 – Caltrans holds public meeting in Eureka
April 2008 – Gallo Report is published analyzing on-line survey data
May 2008 – Caltrans holds meeting in Fortuna
September 2008 – Humboldt County Supervisors send letters endorsing the 197/199 and Richardson Grove projects using Consent Calendar agenda item to avoid public discussion
December 2008 – DEIR published, comment period established as January 30, 2009
March 2009 – Comment period had to be extended due to Caltrans omission but most comments already submitted
June 2009 – Citizen opponents of the project go before the Headwaters Fund to ask for part of grant to hold public forums – request is denied
February 2010 – Two well-attended public forums are held in Humboldt – Coalition asks Supervisors for Agenda Item on Meeting Agenda to present opposition – request denied
April 2010 – Approximately 50 citizens appear at Public Comment period of April 27 Supervisor’s meeting – Coalition gets 3 minutes each to voice opposition
May 2010 – FEIR is published – Chesbro immediately issues a press release (same day) supporting project
June 2010 – State Court Action filed – lawsuit citing violations of CEQA
September 2010 – Federal Court Action filed – lawsuit citing violations of NEPA
May 2010-May 2011 – Letter writing campaign to local media and elected officials
and public outreach activities continue. Internet petition garners signatures opposed to the project.
June 2011 – Activists journey to Sacramento – deliver an 11,000 petition to Governor Brown demanding plan be canceled.
July 2011 – Federal Judge grants Preliminary Injunction halting the project until trial – date set for February 23, 2012.