Victory for Richardson Grove

A Victory for Richardson Grove – Appeals Court Rules Caltrans Failed to Consider Highway Project’s Impacts on Old-Growth Redwoods

The California Court of Appeal today ordered Caltrans to reevaluate the environmental impacts of a controversial highway-widening project in Humboldt County that would harm irreplaceable old-growth redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park. The appeals court unanimously found that Caltrans failed to follow the law in assessing impacts to ancient redwoods and providing mitigation measures to reduce potentially severe harm to the trees. Caltrans’ project—intended to allow bigger trucks to travel Highway 101 through the park—would require excavation, fill, and paving within the fragile root zones of Richardson Grove’s ancient trees.

“This is a victory for Richardson Grove’s ancient trees and for the generations of travelers, hikers and campers who have enjoyed their magnificence,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Kevin Bundy. “Caltrans owes the public a full and honest account of how its highway-widening plans could damage this irreplaceable state park.”

“The significance of this ruling cannot be overstated,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “Our ancient redwoods are invaluable, and we hope Caltrans gets the message that their survival cannot be put at risk by a careless highway development proposal.”

“This illustrates how important the California Environmental Quality Act is for ensuring that major projects are subject to a thorough environmental review,” said Patty Clary of CATs. “The court has made an important decision that respects our responsibility to protect Richardson Grove as a natural treasure for future generations.”

EPIC, Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and local residents Trisha Lotus, Jeffrey Hedin, Loreen Eliason and Bruce Edwards challenged an Environmental Impact Report approved for the project by Caltrans in 2010. The Humboldt County Superior Court ruled in 2012 that Caltrans’ report complied with the California Environmental Quality Act. Today’s ruling overturns that decision.

A separate lawsuit filed in federal court resulted in a 2012 ruling that Caltrans must redo critical aspects of its environmental analysis under federal law. The court cited numerous errors in mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods, and found that Caltrans had been “arbitrary and capricious” in their use of “faulty data.”

Background

Richardson Grove State Park is home to one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwoods in the world, where drivers first encounter significant ancient redwoods when heading north on Highway 101. The park also contains essential habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl, and its creeks still support runs of imperiled salmon and steelhead trout.

Caltrans first proposed the Richardson Grove highway-widening project in 2007. Opposition to the project has continued to grow, led by the Save Richardson Grove Coalition, a diverse group of community members including economists, business owners, scientists, and a consortium of 10 federally recognized Northern California tribes with longstanding ties to the grove.

The proposed Richardson Grove highway widening is one of several Caltrans projects that threaten sensitive environments on the North Coast of California. Caltrans is currently mired in controversy regarding the unnecessary and destructive Willits Bypass project, which has been fraught with permitting irregularities and is the largest wetlands fill project to be pursued in Northern California in 50 years.

Caltrans claims the Richardson Grove highway widening is needed to accommodate large-truck travel, yet Caltrans’ own statements and signage indicate that this portion of road is already designated for larger trucks and that Caltrans has exaggerated potential safety problems. Caltrans has not established that this project is necessary for safety or movement of goods and the economy. Smaller-sized commercial trucks already travel through the grove to deliver goods to Humboldt County and legislative exemptions have functioned to allow the passage of the passage of oversize trucks.

Plaintiff Trisha Lotus is the great granddaughter of Henry Devoy, who in 1922 transferred to California the redwood forest that became Richardson Grove State Park. Jeffrey Hedin is a disabled Vietnam veteran and a volunteer responder with the Piercy Fire Protection District. Bruce Edwards is a licensed contractor who travels the highway in both directions on a daily basis for his work. Loreen Eliason co-owned the popular Riverwood Inn in Phillipsville until her passing late last year.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs are Philip Gregory and Pete McCloskey of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, Stuart Gross of Gross Law, Kevin Bundy of the Center for Biological Diversity, and Sharon Duggan, a long-time expert on environmental law.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) works to protect human and natural communities on the North Coast of California. EPIC uses an integrated science-based approach, combining public education, citizen advocacy, and strategic litigation.

Court of Appeal Decision for Richardson Grove

Press Release

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Caltrans Water-Wasting Highway Project Brings a Crowd to the Water Board

Jan. 30, 2014
For immediate release
Contact: Karen Pickett (925) 376-7329

Caltrans Water-Wasting Highway Project Brings a Crowd to the Water Board

 
Santa Rosa, CA—Citizens concerned about California’s unprecedented drought have zeroed in on Caltrans’ Willits Bypass highway project in Mendocino County, which is slated to fill in more wetlands than any such project since WWII. Opponents of the bypass project will converge on the January 30 meeting of the North Coast Water Quality Control Board (NCWQCB), taking place in Santa Rosa (5550 Skylane Blvd.) on that day.  At issue is a water supply crisis faced by the town of Willits and the massive water use by Caltrans for their nearby highway project, which broke ground in February of 2013.
Demands brought to the Water Board include that they direct NCWQCB staff  to issue a Cease and Desist order to Caltrans, due to the significant damage to the watershed where construction is occurring. Water Board staff has already expressed concern that the mitigation plan which is supposed to make up for the unprecedented loss of wetlands in the Willits Valley is unfunded, unstaffed and not in place as required by law.
In a Jan. 15, 2014 letter to District One Caltrans Director Charlie Fielder, NCWQCB executive officer Matthias St. John expressed that he is “very concerned” that a Mitigation and Monitoring Plan (MMP) that satisfies the Water agency’s requirements is not yet in place, and moreover, that the “majority of Project impacts have already occurred”…without “an MMP to inform the scope, nature and timing of the compensatory wetland mitigation.”  Since mitigation plan deadlines were already missed in 2013, the NCWQCB letter advises Caltrans that avoidance of “formal enforcement of past deadlines,” Caltrans must complete mitigation requirements prior to resumption of dumping of fill onto the wetlands. This letter can be sent upon request.
 During this first year of construction, there have been numerous permit violations, Migratory Bird Act violations, County code violations, and violations of deadlines set by the Army Corps of Engineers. A significant archeological and cultural site has been bulldozed and buried with fill dirt, which may contain toxic contaminants.
“The damage already done to our wetlands and groundwater is devastating”, said Willits resident Rosamond Crowder. “Caltrans has already used approximately eight million gallons of water, half of that pulled from local wells in an area where the water table is already severely compromised. Their mitigation plan is in shambles. Add this to the drought and we have a crisis facing our waters, our fish and ourselves.  It’s time to stop and take a step back.”
Gov. Jerry Brown in his “State of the State” address on Jan. 22, called for “serious groundwater management”, citing the need for “wetlands and watershed restoration,” due to the drought disaster that California is facing. Bypass opponents are calling on Brown’s office to back a plan that would scale back the northern (wetlands) end of the bypass project, which currently call for an immense I-5 style interchange on a two-lane road in a region with declining population and negligible long-distance traffic.
North Coast residents in favor of downsizing or halting the Bypass project point out that critical wetlands are being drained and buried for this highway project that most local residents regard as an unnecessary multi-million dollar boondoggle. At the very least, they say, the compromise plan offered by City Councilwoman Madge Strong—putting in place an already approved but smaller northern interchange–would save at least half the wetland area now being drained and millions of taxpayer dollars.
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Will Parrish Announces Decision in Key Willits Bypass Case

Will Parrish Announces Decision in Key Willits Bypass Case

Willits, CA-At a press conference to be held at noon at the Ukiah County Courthouse (100 N. State St.) today, environmental activist, teacher and journalist Will Parrish will announce the outcome of negotiations with District Attorney David Eyster, which will determine whether Parrish’s trial on 17 misdemeanors for protesting the Willits Bypass will go forward as scheduled on Jan. 28. Speaking at the press conference will be Will Parrish, attorney Omar Figueroa and SOLLV member Rosamond Crowder.

An addendum to this press release will be emailed out at noon today with the decision as it is announced.

Parrish is among the most visible of the dozens of activists arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience during the year-long protests against Caltrans Willits Bypass. He most famously occupied and shut down a wick drain “stitcher” tower for eleven days in June and July of 2013. During that time, Caltrans was prevented from driving thousands of drain tubes deep into the Little Lake Valley wetlands.

Parrish was originally charged with three simple infractions, an unspecified amount of restitution and no right to trial. After Parrish asserted his right to trial, Mendocino County DA David Eyster increased the charges to 17 misdemeanors and demanded $490,000 dollars in restitution. The issue of restitution has been a major sticking point in resolving the case. Many observers believe the restitution fees claimed by Caltrans were massively inflated and designed to have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights in general.

“The cost of dealing with the protestors has been grossly exaggerated by Caltrans. These costs are dwarfed by Caltrans’ mega-million dollar project which should be downsized”, said attorney Omar Figueroa, who represented Parrish pro bono. 

Local community leaders and business owners say that costs could be greatly reduced or avoided entirely if Caltrans would take the reasonable course of building a roundabout on the north end of the proposed Bypass, saving tax dollars and wetlands. Plans for a roundabout and ground level two-lane freeway on the north end of Willits already exist and were once approved by Caltrans. This modification would save millions of dollars and protect about two thirds of the wetlands, an option Caltrans has so far refused to consider.

The final cost of the six mile, $210 million dollar project, including bond interest and overruns, is likely to exceed $500 million in an area with a falling population and decreasing traffic. Opponents charge Caltrans with falsely inflating traffic data to justify the need for a four-lane freeway and misrepresenting a federal funding mandate to do so.

The project will use untold amounts of ground water during six years of construction and is predicted to add more carbon to the atmosphere from cement and vehicle emissions than it could save in over 80 years of use. While the bypass will not use water from the reservoir that supplies the City of Willits, it will use treated wastewater for dust control and compaction. Local farmers say Caltrans’ wells are already depleting local ground water.

The Willits City Council has declared a Mandatory Level V water emergency. Additional supplies from wells are being sought to supplement the town’s fast dwindling reserves. Governor Brown has declared a statewide drought.

 “We can’t conserve water and reduce carbon while simultaneously building more humongous freeways with great carbon inputs and enormous water demands that perpetuate burning more fossil fuel. This is madness.” said Parrish.

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Addendum to Press Release sent out this morning Jan 23, 2014 re. Will Parrish trial in Caltrans Willits Bypass case:

More info: Naomi Wagner  707-459-0548, 832-2310 cell
11:30 am, Jan. 23, 2014
After a hearing in Mendocino County Court this morning before Judge Benke, a settlement was reached that cancelled the upcoming trial, scheduled for Jan. 28.
The particulars of the settlement are:
*15 of the 17 misdemeanors were dropped, retaining two charges of trespass, which drop to infractions after the probation period of 24 months.
*100 hours of community service
*Entry of judgement is deferred for the 24 month probation duration–i.e., sentencing remains open during that time.
*aforementioned 2 years probation
*In addition, a previous violation of a stay-away order was dropped, and the stay-away order was modified so that Parrish can participate in lawful public gatherings at or near the Bypass site.
A restitution hearing will take place April 25, unless a stipulation is reached before then.
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Richardson Grove Update-State Court Of Appeals Oral Argument

New Year’s Greetings to all and let’s hope for some rain soon in 2014!
Sad to say, we suffered a loss in late 2013 of one of our strongest supporters, Loreen Eliason, co-owner of the Riverwood Inn in Phillipsville on the Avenue of the Giants.  Loreen came forward and volunteered to be a plaintiff in our Federal and State Court cases and was one of a number of our business supporters brave enough to stand up for Richardson Grove.  More than that, however, Loreen was a big hearted, community minded individual who never hesitated to speak out for her beliefs.  She was a true Humboldt County original and will be sorely missed.
You may remember that two lawsuits were filed to stop the CALTRANS Richardson Grove project – one suit in Federal Court and one suit in California State Court.  The Federal suit resulted in an injunction that has stopped the project to date.  The State suit suffered a defeat at the lower Court level but has been appealed and oral argument at the State Court of Appeals is set for January 15 in San Francisco at 9:00AM at 350 McAllister Street, Fourth Floor.  Your attendance is encouraged if you are able to attend.  However, Court dates can change at the last minute so if you plan to travel from a distance watch your email for any updates.
2013 also dealt a blow to the opponents of the Willits ByPass in the form of a defeat in Federal Court of their suit against CALTRANS. Conservation groups sued CALTRANS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 2012 for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act in approving the ByPass project.  CALTRANS refused to consider two-lane alternatives and new information about lower traffic volumes, and failed to conduct adequate environmental review for substantial design changes resulting in more severe environmental impacts. Local residents have protested the destruction, occupied the construction site, chained themselves to equipment and sat in trees to stop the project.

To add insult to injury CALTRANS is colluding with the Mendocino District Attorney in a heavy-handed attack on Will Parrish.  Will had occupied one of the wick drain “stitchers” in an act of peaceful civil disobedience.  CALTRANS says that Will Parrish owes them about half a million dollars ($481,588 to be exact) to cover the “direct and indirect costs” of the delays in the construction of the Willits Hwy 101 freeway ByPass.   These costs were incurred, according to CALTRANS, during Will Parrish’s 11 day occupation of the contractor’s wick drain machine in his attempt to stop the largest wetlands fill operation in northern California in half a century.  CALTRANS seeks to bill Mr. Parrish for this half million dollars.  They have informed the District Attorney’s office that they wish to include these claims for “restitution” in connection with Mr. Parrish’s prosecution for unlawful entry onto the CALTRANS project site in the case of  People v. Parrish.  Mr. Parrish’s case is currently scheduled to be heard in Mendocino Superior Court on January 27, 2014 at 8:30 am.  Please attend this important event if you are in the Ukiah area.

This heavy-handed approach, coupled with the use previously of the armed California Highway Patrol just goes to show how out of control this agency has become.  It is high time that this rogue agency is made accountable to the citizens whose tax dollars fund it.  We must remain committed to pursuing this objective at all costs. This is why it is so important to support the non-profits that are defending our environment against this monstrous agency.  Please send a donation to EPIC if you are able.  You can reach them at <http://wildclaifornia.org> . Thank you and feel free to email me at bkenn202@att.net with any concerns.  Best regards, Barbara Kennedy
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Info On Will Parrish Trial (Jan. 27th), Legal Status, & Crime-Fighting Activities

Dear friends,

I’ve put you on an e-mail list to receive irregular updates about what’s happening with my case whereby the Mendocino County DA is prosecuting me for 17 misdemeanors (max jail sentence: about eight years) and seeking nearly a half million dollars in “criminal restitution” for some non-violent crime-fighting I carried out in Little Lake Valley — Willits, CA — over the summer.

My case represents a broader effort by the California Department of Transportation and our local DA to criminalize eco-defense direct action.  Caltrans is pressing ahead with numerous environmental crimes across the state, and they have exerted pressure on the DA to pursue a prosecution strategy that would put a chilling effect on efforts to stand up against these things (including in Willits).

I wanted to let you know that my trial is currently scheduled to begin on Jan. 27th. The trial is expected to last four days, the first day of which will probably be jury selection. It is open to the public.

Also, folks are organizing a big political rally to support me and the things I stand for to take place on the Ukiah courthouse steps, probably on January 28th. Please consider attending all or some of these things. Packing the courthouse does make a big difference. I’ll let you know more details as this approaches. (Of course, the trial could always be postponed yet again. It’s been postponed several times already.)

Much more info on my case is at http://www.savelittlelakevalley.org/free-will/

Also, there’s been some really good coverage of the case in the AVA, such as this article – http://theava.com/archives/24526. 

There was a pretty good article in the North Bay Bohemian (which mischaracterized my background as an activist and my motivations for requesting a jury trial, but does have a lot of good reporting and is very sympathetic) -  http://www.bohemian.com/northbay/bypass-mayhem/Content?oid=2480892. 

Sara Grusky of Green Uprising Farm in Willits wrote a really good piece called “The Value of Stopping Wetlands Destruction” – http://www.savelittlelakevalley.org/2013/12/30/the-value-of-stopping-wetlands-destruction/.

And be on the look-out for a copy of The New Settler interview, which has put out a great Bypass resistance themed issue.

In solidarity,
Will

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Federal Court Allows Destructive Willits Bypass Project to Move Forward

SAN FRANCISCO— A federal judge ruled today that the California Department of Transportation’s environmental review and permits for the Willits Bypass were adequate and the agency can continue construction of a four-lane freeway around the community of Willits in Mendocino County. The disappointing ruling comes despite the fact that construction has destroyed and damaged sensitive wetlands, the headwaters of salmon-bearing streams, oak woodlands and endangered species habitats.

Earlier this year Caltrans began cutting mature oak forests and clearing riparian vegetation along critical salmon streams in Little Lake Valley, and began extensive draining and filling of wetlands, despite violations and improper issuance of federal and county quarry and fill permits.

“It’s disappointing that the court accepted Caltrans’ inadequate review and flawed rationale for the purpose and need of this project,” said Aruna Prabhala, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We disagree with the determination that the environmental impacts of the Willits Bypass project are not significant – Little Lake Valley is being devastated by the construction. Unfortunately this is just one of the irrational and expensive highway projects Caltrans is pushing throughout the state that will cause extensive environmental damage without solving traffic or safety concerns.”

“This is a painful lesson in how Caltrans operates with impunity to justify building unnecessary and oversized projects,” said Ellen Drell of the Willits Environmental Center. “Caltrans made false claims to permitting agencies and the courts saying that only a four-lane freeway bypass, with two enormous interchanges, would solve the traffic congestion in Willits, when smaller alternatives would have done the job.”

“The irregularities of the review and permitting process for this massive project have undermined the legitimacy of the Willits Bypass project,” said Gary Graham Hughes of EPIC. “It is a disappointment that the court did not hold Caltrans accountable for playing fast and loose with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, two of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws.”

Conservation groups sued Caltrans and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 2012 for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act in approving the bypass project. Caltrans refused to consider two-lane alternatives and new information about lower traffic volumes, and failed to conduct adequate environmental review for substantial design changes resulting in more severe environmental impacts. Local residents have protested the destruction, occupied the construction site, chained themselves to equipment and sat in trees to stop the project.

Background

Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration are pursuing a bypass on Highway 101 around Willits, supposedly to ease traffic congestion. The agencies insist on a four-lane freeway and have refused to consider or analyze equally effective two-lane alternatives or in-town solutions. The project will construct a six-mile, four-lane bypass including several bridges over creeks and roads, a mile-long viaduct spanning the floodplain, and two interchanges.

Although Caltrans documents show that traffic projected to use the bypass is not enough to warrant a four-lane freeway, the agency unilaterally discarded all non-freeway or two-lane alternatives. New information shows that Highway 101 traffic volumes through Willits are below what Caltrans projected when it determined a four-lane freeway was needed. Caltrans has used unrealistic traffic and growth projections in several projects around the state to justify large highway widening projects.

Bypass construction will harm wildlife habitat and biological resources in Little Lake Valley, including more than 80 acres of wetlands and more than 400 acres of farmland, and requires the largest wetlands fill permit in Northern California in the past 50 years. It will damage stream and riparian habitat for chinook and coho salmon and steelhead trout in three streams converging into Outlet Creek, harm the rare plant Baker’s meadowfoam, and destroy increasingly scarce oak woodlands.

A statewide coalition of conservation organizations is challenging irresponsible and damaging highway-widening projects around the state by Caltrans, and calling attention to the agency’s pervasive refusal to consider reasonable alternatives to massive highway projects, shoddy environmental review, lack of transparency, reliance on flawed data and disregard for public input. The Caltrans Watch coalition aims to put the brakes on Caltrans’ wasteful spending, institutionalized disregard of environmental regulations designed to protect natural resources, and pattern of refusal to address local concerns. The EPIC Rein in Caltrans campaign is focused specifically on challenging unnecessary and destructive Caltrans projects on the North Coast.

Click here to view EPIC press release.

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Richardson Grove Update-Over 9,000 Took Action-Thank You!

We did it. In only eleven days more than 9,000 people from California, out of the state and even out of the country, spoke up in defense of ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park.
This response from the community has been exhilarating. I am reminded of the worldwide significance of the temperate redwood rainforest and its phenonmenal power to inspire action. So many people are speaking up and sharing their stories and connections to Richardson Grove and I see how valued this place is to people from all over the world.
Together we are stopping this project. Your recent online action to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) sent a message loud and clear that Richardson Grove State Park is important, worth fighting for and reminds Caltrans that they will face massive community opposition if they think they can begin construction in our sacred grove next year.
Please continue to pay attention to this project. There will be more instances when EPIC and our allies need your help and your voice. Our legal team is working hard in both the California State and Federal Courts to prevent this project from moving forward. And we are working with a statewide coalition of organizations that are calling into question transportation planning and infrastructure needs. In order to make decision makers in Sacramento listen, it will take all of us raising our voices again and again. Please stay with us as we continue this work into the future..
If you are able to make a financial contribution to the Richardson Grove campaign, you can do so here. To those of you who already contributed–thank you! And to those of you who are not in a place financially to make a donation–then please help spread the word, tell your friends and family about why Richardson Grove is important to you. Let us keep this story going and our recent victory in heart and mind.
For the Redwoods!
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Take Action to Protect the Irreplaceable Treasure of Richardson Grove

Take action. The fate of Richardson Grove State Park is in your hands. Caltrans is now accepting comments on the newly released Supplement to the Environmental Assessment for the Richardson Grove highway-widening project during a 30-day public comment period that will end on October 21, 2013.

After a sternly worded remand from a federal court in April 2012, in which Caltrans was determined to have been “arbitrary and capricious” in their use of “false data,” Caltrans has flouted the federal court order by coming back with yet another inadequate analysis for the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project. Caltrans is now communicating to the public that they will begin construction on the Richardson Grove project in mid-2014.

We are at a critical junction in our ongoing community supported campaign to stop Caltrans from conducting destructive activities amongst these ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove, which were supposed to be protected in perpetuity under the California State Park System. Your comments are vital.

As this inadequate analysis demonstrates, Caltrans continues to downplay and ignore how road construction activities, tree thinning, old-growth root cutting, and long-term impacts of highway expansion will impact the irreplaceable old-growth ecosystem protected in the park.

Now is your chance to speak up for the trees. There is less than 3% of the original ancient redwood temperate rainforest left after more than a century of intense human economic development in the redwood region. Most all of the ancient redwoods that remain are held in isolated pockets of park-protected forests.  We can’t risk losing any of these last redwood giants. Don’t let Caltrans degrade this public trust resource further when other viable alternatives are possible. Please take action now to ensure that this sacred and magical place is protected for future generations.

Click here to take action today!

Why it is Important to Stop Caltrans from Destroying the Irreplaceable Public Trust Resource that is Richardson Grove

Richardson Grove is an irreplaceable ecosystem consisting of one of the world’s last remaining stands of old-growth redwoods. The Grove was designated as a heritage park and protected in the California State Park system, and is one of the state’s oldest and most popular state parks. Richardson Grove sits alongside the wild and scenic Eel River, and is a place that is of incredible value to a multitude of people from around the region, the state, the country, and the world. Richardson Grove has irreplaceable spiritual and cultural qualities and is known to contain important Native American archaeological sites. If Caltrans moves forward with the proposed project it will result in significant impacts to the state and federally designated wild and scenic Eel River, to known Native American cultural sites, to an irreplaceable old-growth redwood ecosystem, to habitat that is suitable for old-growth dependent species, and to the experience of visitors to the protected Richardson Grove State Park.

Caltrans should withdraw the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project as it currently stands, and look to identify viable solutions that can effectively meet the needs and interests of the broad variety of stakeholders on the North Coast of California. If Caltrans does not drop the project, the agency must complete a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project. The new Supplement to the Environmental Assessment is inadequate, and it does not fulfill the Court’s order to prepare a revised Environmental Assessment or conduct an Environmental Impact Statement. The Tree Decisions Final Report fails to provide adequate analysis for individual trees, and completely fails to assess cumulative effects on the entire old-growth redwood grove that will be affected by the proposed project, as well as the region wide impacts of increased STAA truck traffic. Richardson Grove deserves better, take action now to express your concerns to Caltrans.

Over the past year, community concerns that Caltrans will have no regard for cultural and environmental resources at Richardson Grove have been confirmed by the manner by which the unnecessary and overbuilt Willits Bypass Project has been implemented. The destructive implementation of the Willits Bypass Project is relevant to the discussion, as there is ample evidence that Caltrans does not follow state or federal regulations that are in place to protect cultural or environmental resources. Caltrans installed wick drains and 3 feet of fill in an area that contained an archaeological site sacred to the Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians.  Caltrans was aware of the location of the site, and still destroyed it. Additionally, Caltrans has violated conditions of the wetland fill permit that was issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, and also had a nearly 900,000 cubic yard quarry and fill permit revoked by Mendocino County when irregularities for the fill permit came to light due to legal action by concerned citizens. With these clear and ongoing violations of the law, Caltrans has lost legitimacy in the eyes of thousands of North Coast residents. Caltrans insistence on pushing forward with the Richardson Grove project without doing the analysis required by the April 2012 court order reaffirms the concerns of conservation advocates regarding Caltrans ability and competence to implement projects appropriately in sensitive and rare environments.

Another ongoing concern is that Caltrans has failed to analyze and provide information about how the cumulative effects of the Richardson Grove project, along with the proposed widening of Highway 197/199 along the wild and scenic Smith River and the massive STAA highway-widening project on Hwy 299 at Buckhorn Summit, will impact our communities. An adequate analysis of the STAA access projects proposed and being currently implemented by Caltrans would take the necessary hard look at how highway development will affect not only the irreplaceable old-growth redwood ecosystem within Richardson Grove State Park, but how it could jeopardize the health of the entire redwood region: our safety, our environment, our roads, and our economy will all be impacted by this region wide STAA truck transportation project. Our community deserves an honest, transparent, and open discussion about the impacts of highway development, the costs and the benefits of such infrastructure development, and what viable alternatives are possible that will meet needs for goods movement and transportation, as well as protect the rare and sensitive environments that make Northwest California such a special place. Unfortunately, Caltrans continues to disregard state and federal law regarding transparency and access to information. We demand that the agency be forthcoming with an analysis of these region wide impacts resulting from the implementation of a variety of related STAA projects.

Unless an EIS is completed to analyze the full scope and effects of the proposed project, including an assessment of less environmentally damaging alternatives, this project should not go forward. Richardson Grove State Park is part of an irreplaceable, unique, and fragile ecosystem that is protected under state and federal laws. A federal court has already ruled once against Caltrans for their failure to provide adequate documentation for this project. A project of this nature and magnitude must be carefully analyzed to minimize impacts to this public trust resource. Caltrans needs to be prepared to work with a diverse group of stakeholders on the North Coast who want to work towards cost effective and environmentally sound solutions to our transportation and state park protection challenges.

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Richardson Grove Update-CALTRANS Back On The Attack

Greetings …. not surprisingly, CALTRANS has refused to give up on their plan to make Highway 101 STAA (large Interstate trucks) accessible from Grants Pass Oregon to the Bay Area and Richardson Grove is one of their major sticking points. A September 21, 2013 public notice appeared in the Eureka Times-Standard stating that CALTRANS has posted documents including a Supplement to the Final Environmental Analysis, a Final Report by their “expert” Tree Decisions and an Individual Tree Analysis.
These documents are posted on the CALTRANS website at:
The documents are lengthy.  Apparently this is in response to the successful lawsuit by our litigation team that resulted in the Injunction that has halted the project.  In that lawsuit the Federal Judge ruled that CALTRANS  had arbitrarily and capriciously tried to justify the project with false data (meaning their measurements of the trees and their mapping.)  However, the Judge also cautioned CALTRANS that other arguments against the project presented by the plaintiffs should also be considered before CALTRANS tries again to get the Injunction lifted.
The public comment period in response to these documents closes on October 21, 2013.  Our allies at EPIC are in process of analyzing the documents in order to help us formulate public comment.  Written comments may be submitted to CALTRANS, Attn:  Environmental Management, P.O. Box 3700, Eureka, CA 95502 by October 21, 2013.  Here is EPIC’s initial take:
EPIC plans to have a more substantive response, probably in the form of an Action Alert shortly.
Several of us have also emailed CALTRANS asking for an extension of the comment period.  You can email them at:
On other fronts, our awesome legal team has filed suit to stop one of the companion projects in their assault on our North Coast environment, the 197/199 project to widen Highway 101 along the Smith River corridor.  Please see the Press Release at:
Finally, the brave and stalwart folks of Save Our Little Lake Valley continue their opposition to the CALTRANS ByPass.  They are planning a mass demonstration On October 12, 2013.  All are invited and details will follow.  There is a new section on the Save Little Lake Valley website that detail and document the violations by CALTRANS during this first phase of construction that happily supposedly wraps-up on October 15.  To see how CALTRANS actually behaves despite any promises or permit conditions please see:

Please stay tuned for further updates.  Events will be moving rapidly.  Thank you for your support in protecting our precious environment and old-growth trees.  Regards, Barbara Kennedy
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Caltrans Fails to Follow Court Order, Provides Inadequate Richardson Grove Documentation

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.

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