An Injury to One State Park is an Injury to All State Parks

By
Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

From our new Executive Director, Gary Graham Hughes, on EPIC’s Involvement with the Richardson Grove Issue.

The Environmental Protection Information Center works through out the Northwest California region on many controversial resource management and economic development issues. One of these controversial issues is the proposal to widen and expand Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. The CalTrans proposal to rebuild the highway through the ancient redwoods grove has received tremendous attention, starting when it was first put on the table in 2007. Since that time, a broad and diverse coalition has sprung up to challenge the CalTrans Richardson Grove Highway Improvement Project. EPIC is an important member of that coalition, yet EPIC is only one member of that coalition.

EPIC is also one of several plaintiffs that have filed suit in both state and federal court, challenging the Final Environmental Impact Report for the highway-widening project.  Recent developments in the legal proceedings demonstrate that the EPIC case is robust. As a result of court supervised communications concerning the highway-widening project, a stipulation has been reached that CalTrans will not put to bid or otherwise move forward on work with the project before at least July 1, 2011. We are intent in seeing that the merits of our case are heard before CallTrans attempts to implement the project, and this development is an important step in achieving that objective.

The motives for EPIC’s participating in the suit are diverse, as is the group of people that participate in the movement challenging the project. EPIC’s organizational reasons for being involved with the Richardson Grove issue can be simplified into three principle concepts.

The first is environmental democracy. Opposition to the project has been voiced from around the state, and across the county. Locally, there is a sensation that the Richardson Grove project has been forced upon the Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino community, and that the local communities concerns about the repercussions of further highway development through Richardson Grove have been largely ignored. Much of our legal challenge is based on procedural grounds, as it is the precise and correct facilitation of the environmental review process that guarantees democracy when a state agency proposes to invest millions of dollars in an infrastructure development project. We believe that the process has been incorrectly supervised by CalTrans, and we are defending basic democratic principles as they are stipulated in state and federal law.

On another front, the potential investment of more than 10 million dollars by CalTrans in the highway development project in Richardson Grove contrasts markedly with the California State Parks system 1.2 billion dollar backlog in maintenance projects. This disparity underscores the second reason that EPIC has stood firm in the face of fierce public criticism of our opposition to the highway-widening project—our state parks are endangered.

Our State Park system is an essential part of the infrastructure that makes up the economic backbone of Northern California. The State Parks, especially those located here in redwood country, are recognized as a global jewel, and attract visitors from all around the world. As such they bring in valuable tourist dollars, as well as providing important environmental services. Yet, our State Parks face a terrible funding crisis, putting at risk their potential as protected areas in the face of unbridled development and climate change, as well as diminishing their capacity for contributing to a diversified and vibrant economy.

The recent collapse of Briceland Road in Whittemore Grove brought this maintenance backlog, and the high costs of neglecting park infrastructure, to the forefront for the Southern Humboldt community. Our State Parks are endangered and suffering for a lack of stewardship, and the impacts of the deterioration of the park infrastructure is costing local people time and money, as well as putting the survival of sensitive species at risk.

In advocating for the appropriate care of our state parks, EPIC is also advocating for alternatives to proposals like the highway widening in Richardson Grove. We know that solutions exist, and that these solutions will contribute to a sustainable vision for the economic future of our region. As it stands, the deterioration of our parks is certainly a deterioration of our shared natural and economic heritage, and the problem will only be compounded if the massive development looming on the North Coast horizon comes to pass.

This illuminates the third fundamental reason why EPIC is involved with the Richardson Grove issue. We believe that it is incumbent upon us as an environmental watchdog to enter into the region wide debate about sustainable development, and to insure that true parameters of sustainability are on the table. One of these true parameters of sustainability is the maintenance of ecological integrity, the achievement of which depends upon the strict stewardship of our State Park treasures as a buffer against ever accelerating development. Other true parameters for sustainable development include the use of appropriate technology and democratic decision making processes, both of which are themes that run through out the debate surrounding the Richardson Grove issue.

Richardson Grove is not a stand-alone issue for EPIC. Our supporters are crucial in providing timely and ongoing financial support for our legal work on Richardson Grove, and we want our community to know that we are not working on Richardson Grove in an advocacy vacuum. Our Richardson Grove work fits tightly within a framework of environmental advocacy strategies that have a coherent objective, which is to contribute to an economically viable and ecologically sane long-term vision of our regions future. It is our responsibility to confront destructive and shortsighted development that puts our future at stake.

We are firm in our commitment to challenging the highway development in Richardson Grove, and we have confidence that our arguments against the project are well studied and viable. The stipulation letter holding CalTrans to a July 1 date for contract bids proves that we are having success in the legal proceedings. Yet, the costs of this work are high. We need the financial backing of people who support our work. Please continue to support EPIC, and be attentive to forthcoming communications that will describe how you can act to support EPIC on this emblematic issue.