Wild and Scenic Smith River, the 197/199 Project

Caltrans has an environmentally destructive and regionally inappropriate highway-widening project slated for the North Coast of California.

Up in the most remote and wild corner of Northwest California lies U.S. Highway 199, a winding country highway that connects Crescent City on the California redwood coast to Grants Pass in Oregon. This highway route is part of the “Mystic Corridor” that links the California redwoods to Crater Lake National Park. The road is designated part of the U.S. Scenic Byway Network, one of only ten in the country, and follows the course of the narrow canyons and ancient redwoods of the Wild and Scenic Smith River, the only major river system in California that remains undammed.

Caltrans’ 197/199 Project is intended to realign and widen the roadway along U.S. Highway 199 and State Route 197 in seven different locations in order to allow increased and unrestricted access for the largest and heaviest commercial trucks on the road, STAA trucks.

Touting safety and improved goods movement, this project would harm the Smith River, the “Crown Jewel” of the National Wild and Scenic River System, putting endangered salmon and steelhead at risk. This project also directly and indirectly threatens the old-growth redwood forests protected in the Redwood State and National Parks, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Ruby Van Deventer County Park.

First announced to the public in June 2010, at the same time that EPIC and our allies were filing a federal lawsuit seeking to protect the old-growth redwood trees from the now infamous Caltrans’ highway-widening project in Richardson Grove State Park, the Hwy 197/199 project has largely been kept under the radar screen. Nevertheless, dozens of letters from concerned citizens filled the Caltrans mailbox by the end of the first public comment period on the project in August 2010.

The proposed project will result in an increase in heavy truck use on a roadway whose main value is in providing access to environmental and recreation resources along the scenic Smith River Canyon.

The Final Environmental Impact Report for the 197/199 Project was to have been released summer of 2012; however a federal ruling on April 4, 2012 against Caltrans’ STAA project slated for Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park sent Caltrans back to the drawing board for more than just that project.

The court ordered Caltrans to correct its factual errors and analysis and prepare new documentation that considered potential harm to each individual redwood tree in the project’s path. Caltrans’ deficient analysis of the STAA project through Richardson Grove is directly applicable to the Highway 197/199 project because old-growth redwoods trees would be impacted.

On April 9, 2012, EPIC sent a letter to Caltrans asserting that they must undertake supplemental environmental analysis for the Highway 197/199 Project. In late September 2012, Caltrans announced the “partial” recirculation of draft documents, including supplemental analysis, and the opening of a new public comment period. More than 450 people participated in an EPIC action alert that encouraged Caltrans to either abandon the project, or to do a full Environmental Impact Statement.

Caltrans stated that they were only accepting comments on the portions of the Draft Environmental Impact Report that are being re-circulated. However, EPIC contends that the agency must accept comments on the entire DEIR including: cumulative impacts, transportation, safety, and economic analyses.

Comments were accepted on the Draft Environmental Impact Report through November 5, 2012. Click here to read EPIC’s comments.

In May of 2013, EPIC and others filed a lawsuit in State Court challenging Caltrans’s destructive highway-widening project on the Smith River.

On September 23, 2013, EPIC filed a federal lawsuit to challenge Caltrans’ highway widening project on the Smith River: Lawsuit Filed to Protect Wild and Scenic Smith River From Destructive Caltrans Highway-widening Project.

EPIC is pleased to be partnering with the Friends of Del Norte & Center for Biological Diversity.

The conservation groups are represented in this legal action by private attorneys Stuart Gross and Sharon Duggan, and the nationally recognized firm of Cotchett, Pitre, and McCarthy.

For more information, download:

*Planner Mara Feeney’s Letter to Caltrans

*Analysis from Smith Engineering

*Comments submitted by Friends of Del Norte

*Comments from trucker James Barrett

From Caltrans:
* Draft Environmental Impact Report
* Partial Recirculation of the Draft Environmental Report
* Biological Memo
* Forester/Arborist Report