Richardson Grove

Save Richardson Grove: Think Globally, Act Locally

Sunday, January 25th, 2015
By

Madrone Hugging Ancient RedwoodIf everyone cared for their own wild back yard, the world would be a better place. Northwest California is known for having some of the wildest lands, including the Lost Coast and the tallest trees on the planet, which have been preserved behind the redwood curtain since time immemorial. With less than three percent of the planet’s old growth redwood trees remaining, it is imperative that every ancient tree is protected, especially if they are entrusted into a park system, which has vowed to protect them in perpetuity.

Since 2007, EPIC has been working to protect some of the most well-known giant redwoods in the world from the California Department of Transportation’s destructive highway-widening project. A grass roots coalition of community members, business owners, economists, conservation and Native American groups have opposed the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project, which proposed tree removal and destruction of the root systems of ancient redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park – trees that are supposed to be protected by the state park system.

Richardson Grove is the first cluster of old-growth redwoods people see as they head up the coast on Highway 101, it is essentially the “redwood curtain” that has allowed Humboldt County to retain its rural character. The redwoods in Richardson Grove also serve as critical habitat for Marbled Murrelets, Northern Spotted Owls and streams going through the Grove are critical habitat for endangered Coho Salmon. Maintaining the integrity of these trees is incredibly important not only to the ecosystem, but to the community, since these trees are the pinch point that do not allow for larger trucks serving corporate chains that are characteristic of sprawling urban areas, and which many people feel would change the essential character of Humboldt County.

For eight years EPIC and allies have organized community support, provided comments, and filed substantive lawsuits that convinced a federal judge to grant an injunction halting the Richardson Grove project citing that the agency had been “arbitrary and capricious” in its use of what the court called “faulty data.” This past December Caltrans revoked its approval of the project. If the agency decides to pursue the project, a complete and comprehensive environmental review and approval process will have to start over. This is a victory, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and rest assured that the trees in Richardson Grove State Park will not be harmed for now.

An important lesson has been learned because of this case, that Caltrans consistently breaks the rules, violating environmental laws and risking important public trust resources. For this reason, EPIC will continue to engage with Caltrans and hold them accountable to the environmental standards that have been put in place to protect our natural treasures.

A related proposal that should be watched closely is Caltrans’ “Last Chance Grade” project, located along Highway 101 ten miles south of Crescent City where the roadbed is sliding into the Pacific Ocean. Caltrans is in the beginning planning phases of this project and is looking at potential alternative routes to the east, away from the sliding cliffs, which includes multiple alternatives that would go through the middle of Redwood State and National Parks. EPIC is committed to finding the least environmentally destructive project alternative that meets the needs of the community, while holding Caltrans accountable to environmental laws.

The loss of large tracts of intact wild lands may be the single biggest threat to our way of life. Climate disruption will only compound the threats that future generations face. In order to secure a sustainable future, it is clear that protecting and restoring Northwest California’s forest ecosystems will provide necessary habitat, clean air and water, carbon sequestration, and improve quality of life for people and native wildlife for generations to come.

In order to hone EPIC’s effectiveness in protecting wild forestlands within our bioregion, we have restructured the organization, added two new attorneys to our staff, and developed a new strategic plan to focus on three primary campaigns:

•Achieving permanent connectivity of working and wild forestlands, a campaign called “Connecting Wild Places;”

•Ensuring best management of public forestlands; and

•Ensuring best management of private industrial forests with an emphasis on the Elk, Mattole and Freshwater watersheds.

With your help, we can protect wild places and ensure that public and private lands are managed responsibly to maintain healthy intact ecosystems. We have our work cut out for us, but we are dedicated and determined to leave our children with a legacy we can all be proud of.

 


Plans Halted for Widening Highway Through Ancient Redwoods in California’s Richardson Grove State Park

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
By

RichardsonGroveAfter years of opposition, Caltrans has rescinded its approvals for a controversial highway-widening project that would endanger ancient redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park, along Highway 101 in Humboldt County. Conservation groups and local residents this week dismissed a lawsuit they filed in federal court in July in exchange for Caltrans abandoning the project approvals and agreeing to restart the environmental review if the agency pursues the project. Caltrans has been prohibited from any project construction activities by both a 2012 federal court injunction and a recent state court order.

“This is an important victory stopping a nonsensical project that would have done terrible damage to an ancient grove of giant redwoods in our state park,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ll be ready to go back to court if Caltrans decides to pursue the project, and it’ll have to completely start over on environmental review and the approval process.”

Conservation groups and local residents have now won three consecutive lawsuits challenging the “Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project,” a proposal that would cut into and pave over the roots of many of Richardson Grove’s ancient redwoods, including some that are 2,000 years old, are 18 feet in diameter and reach heights of 300 feet. Caltrans has pursued this project solely to benefit passage for oversized commercial trucks.

“It’s time to investigate the huge amount of taxpayer money Caltrans has wasted pursuing this ill-conceived project,” said Natalynne DeLapp with the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Caltrans should have to answer why the agency continues to pour money down the drain pursuing a project that cannot be legally approved. Regulatory agencies and the public will not allow Richardson Grove’s ancient trees to be damaged.”

The latest lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Bess Bair, Trisha Lee Lotus, Bruce Edwards, Jeffrey Hedin and David Spreen. The lawsuit challenged Caltrans’ violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Background

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

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

Caltrans claimed the highway-widening project was needed to accommodate large-truck travel, but acknowledged that the portion of road in question was already designated for larger trucks and did not have significant safety problems. The agency did not establish that the project was necessary for safety or would benefit the local economy. Smaller-sized commercial trucks have travelled through the grove for years to deliver goods to Humboldt County, and legislative exemptions have functioned to allow the passage of oversize trucks.

The plaintiffs first sued in 2010 when Caltrans certified inadequate environmental review documents and adopted a “finding of no significant impact.” In 2012 a federal court stopped the project, citing numerous errors in Caltrans’ mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods and stating that the agency had been “arbitrary and capricious” in its use of what the court called ‘faulty data.” The California Court of Appeal in January 2014 ordered Caltrans to reevaluate the environmental impacts of the project under state law, finding that it had failed to fully assess impacts on ancient redwoods or provide measures to reduce potentially severe harm to the trees.

The latest lawsuit was filed earlier this year when Caltrans approved a “supplement” to its federal environmental review and renewed the project approval, while refusing to consider public concerns about the issues raised in the previous lawsuit. Caltrans failed to fix the numerous errors in mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods that were cited by the federal judge in his order.

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

EPIC Richardson Grove Press Release 12.5.14


Third Lawsuit Filed to Prevent Caltrans From Vandalizing Ancient Redwoods in Richardson Grove State Park

Monday, July 28th, 2014
By
Photo by Juan Pazos

Photo by Juan Pazos

SAN FRANCISCO— Following two previously successful federal and state court legal actions, conservation groups and local residents filed a lawsuit in federal court today challenging Caltrans’ renewed approval of a controversial highway-widening project that would endanger ancient and irreplaceable redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park in Humboldt County. Due to Caltrans’ flawed environmental-review process, the project to cut into and pave over the roots of old-growth redwoods along Highway 101 was halted by a federal court ruling in 2012 and a state court decision earlier this year.

“The shortsightedness of this project is dumbfounding,” said Peter Galvin with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Does Caltrans really expect the public to accept a multimillion dollar project that would needlessly damage this iconic grove of giant redwoods?”

“We will not allow Caltrans to put Richardson Grove’s ancient trees at risk,” said Natalynne DeLapp with EPIC. “Caltrans owes the public a full and honest account of how its highway-widening plans could damage this irreplaceable state park.”

The lawsuit filed in federal court for the Northern District of California alleges serious violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The plaintiffs are the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, as well as local residents Bess Bair, Trisha Lee Lotus, Bruce Edwards, Jeffrey Hedin and David Spreen.

The so-called “Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project” would require cutting into and paving over the roots of many of Richardson Grove’s ancient redwoods, some of which have stood for as many as 3,000 years, measure as much as 18 feet in diameter and reach heights of 300 feet. The project is being undertaken solely to benefit passage for large commercial trucks. While originally promoted by Caltrans as a safety project, the agency was not able to offer any evidence of safety concerns along the narrow, one-mile stretch of roadway through the state park.

The plaintiffs first sued in federal and state courts in 2010 when Caltrans certified inadequate environmental review documents and adopted a “Finding of No Significant Impact.” In 2012 the federal court stopped the project, citing numerous errors in Caltrans’ mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods and stating that the agency had been “arbitrary and capricious” in its use of what the court called “faulty data.” The California Court of Appeal in January 2014 ordered Caltrans to reevaluate the environmental impacts of the project under state law, finding that it had failed to fully assess impacts on ancient redwoods or provide measures to reduce potentially severe harm to the trees.

Today’s lawsuit was triggered when earlier this year Caltrans approved a “supplement” to its federal environmental review and renewed the project approval, while refusing to consider public concerns about the issues raised in the previous lawsuit. The complaint alleges that Caltrans failed to fix the numerous errors in mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods that were cited by the federal judge in his order.

Background

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

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

Caltrans claims the highway widening project is needed to accommodate large-truck travel, yet the agency has acknowledged that this portion of road is already designated for larger trucks and does not have significant safety problems. Even with its “supplement” to the environmental review, Caltrans has not established that this project is necessary for safety or will benefit the local economy. Smaller-sized commercial trucks have travelled through the grove for years to deliver goods to Humboldt County, and legislative exemptions have functioned to allow 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 frequently travels through Richardson Grove. Bess Bair is the granddaughter of Bess and Fred Hartsook, who for many years owned the Hartsook Inn resort next to Richardson Grove State Park. David Spreen is a long-time resident of Humboldt County and has extensive business experience negotiating rates and scheduling shipping of flooring materials in the North Coast region, nationally and internationally.

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

 Click here to download the complaint.


Caltrans Agrees to Reevaluate Impacts of Del Norte Highway Project on Endangered Salmon

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
By

SmithIn response to a lawsuit by EPIC and other conservation groups, Caltrans has agreed to reassess impacts of a controversial highway-widening project in Del Norte County on protected salmon and their habitat along the Wild and Scenic Smith River. A settlement agreement will keep in place a court-ordered halt of construction work until Caltrans completes consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act and Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act.

“The North Coast community deserves a project that does not put salmon and the Smith River at risk, as well as an honest assessment of the impacts of highway development on the region,” said Natalynne DeLapp with EPIC. “This is an opportunity for Caltrans to reassess whether this project is in the best interests of taxpayers and the environment.”

Caltrans is attempting to widen narrow sections of highways 197 and 199 along the Smith River in California’s remote Del Norte County to provide access for oversized trucks. Construction would increase erosion and delivery of sediment into the Middle Fork Smith River, harming habitat for threatened coho salmon runs that already face a high risk of extinction. The project would undermine public safety by increasing heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the Smith River Canyon; it would hurt tourism and local residents.

“Caltrans should reevaluate the whole premise of this expensive, unnecessary project that would cause erosion and sediment impacts to critical salmon habitat,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Caltrans has already wasted more than $9 million of taxpayer money by starting major construction work along a pristine river without first doing a valid environmental review.”

Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center filed lawsuits in state and federal court in 2013 challenging Caltrans’ approval of the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project” due to inadequate review of the environmental impacts. The state agency began cutting trees and removing vegetation close to the Smith River in January and was scheduled to begin major earthmoving and construction work in May.

“Caltrans and the National Marine Fisheries Service should have pursued a scientific study to start this process rather than pay lip-service to written environmental law, said Don Gillespie with Friends of Del Norte. “The important issues of highway motorist safety on Highways 199/197 can be addressed on a smaller scale, without the massive erosive bank cuts required to allow STAA truck passage, that endanger the Smith River water quality and threaten our vital fisheries.”

A Northern District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction in early May stopping Caltrans from doing any further work, citing substantial violations of the Endangered Species Act, a “haphazard” consultation process with the federal fisheries agency, and the potential for irreparable harm to the Smith River and salmon habitat. The court characterized both agencies’ biological assessment documents for the project as “contradictory and unclear.”

As part of the new settlement, Caltrans has now reinitiated consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service to properly analyze whether the project would jeopardize threatened coho salmon and their critical habitat in the Smith River or adversely affect the essential fish habitat of all salmon species in the river. The conservation groups retain the right to challenge any further agency decisions or environmental documents for the project.

Caltrans has not considered alternatives besides widening the highway and tried to downplay project impacts on salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River. The agency refused to evaluate safety hazards from increased truck traffic and ignored the cumulative impacts of numerous other associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access. Despite the Fisheries Service’s own data on the imperiled status of coho salmon in the Smith, the fisheries agency rubber-stamped the original project without sufficient review. The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Stuart G. Gross and Sharon Duggan and the nationally recognized firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

Background

Highway 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River Canyon that passes through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area and provides access to Redwood National and State Parks. The Smith River is the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48. A 1989 Caltrans report acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.”

Highway 197 is a seven-mile, two-lane country road that runs north to south along the lower Smith River just northeast of Crescent City. It is a rural-residential route with 72 driveways directly entering onto the road. In order to avoid Jedediah Smith State Park at the western edge of the project, oversized trucks would divert off Highway 199 and travel along Highway 197 to the north of Crescent City to reach Highway 101.

Court challenges to the related Caltrans road-widening project through Richardson Grove on Highway 101 in Humboldt County have resulted in rulings determining that Caltrans failed to adequately analyze the potential impacts of highway development on the ancient redwoods protected in Richardson Grove State Park.

A recently released independent review of Caltrans called for sweeping reforms of the agency and cited a “culture of fear” within Caltrans when it comes to deviating from standard policies. The statewide Caltrans Watch coalition has highlighted 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.

Click here to view the Order of Stipulation

Click here to view the Official Press Release


Federal Court Halts Caltrans Highway-widening Project Along Smith River

Monday, May 5th, 2014
By

SmithCites Potential Impacts to Smith River, Coho Salmon in Granting Injunction

Northern District Court judge James Donato issued a preliminary injunction late Friday enjoining Caltrans from any further work on a controversial highway-widening project along the wild and scenic Smith River Canyon, until a court hearing scheduled for November 19. The judge cited substantial procedural violations of the Endangered Species Act and the potential for irreparable harm to endangered coho salmon and their critical habitat in the Smith River if the project goes forward.

“Caltrans should let this expensive and unneeded project die. Major excavation shouldn’t occur on such steep slopes along narrow, rural roads and within critical salmon habitat,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court agreed that halting the project is in the public interest to protect endangered salmon.”

Caltrans is attempting to widen narrow sections of highways 197 and 199 along the Smith River in California’s remote Del Norte County, to provide access for oversized trucks. Construction would increase erosion and delivery of sediment into the Middle Fork Smith River, harming habitat for endangered coho salmon runs that already face a high risk of extinction. The project would undermine public safety by increasing heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the Smith River Canyon. It would negatively impact tourism and local residents.

“This project with its huge cuts in our narrow Smith River Canyon, was ill-conceived from the start, as is confirmed by Judge Donato’s decision,” said Don Gillespie with Friends of Del Norte. “The Coho Salmon Recovery Plan, when implemented, will have a much greater positive economic impact on our local economy than allowing oversized trucks to have unsafe access to our local highways.”

Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) filed lawsuits in state and federal court in 2013 challenging Caltrans’ approval of the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project” due to inadequate review of the environmental impacts. Caltrans began cutting trees and removing vegetation close to the Smith River in January 2014 and was scheduled to begin major earth-moving and construction work this month.

“This decision by the federal court should be a wake up call to our elected officials regarding public concerns about Caltrans playing fast and loose with environmental laws,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director of EPIC. “A thorough and adequate review process is needed to resolve the environmental and public safety concerns that our communities have about this project.”

The judge ruled that there is a risk of irreparable harm to the Smith River if the project were to proceed before the case is heard on its merits. The court also ruled that there a valid argument has been raised by plaintiffs that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the federal Endangered Species Act by failing to properly analyze whether the project will jeopardize protected coho salmon or their critical habitat. The court characterized both agencies’ biological assessment documents for the project as “contradictory and unclear,” citing “serious questions about the adequacy of the ESA review and consultation process” raised by the plaintiffs. The court noted that it “cannot rubber-stamp a haphazard consultation process.”

Caltrans tried to downplay the threat project construction poses to salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River and failed to look at safety hazards from increased truck traffic. Caltrans has thus far refused to consider alternatives besides widening the highway and ignored the cumulative impacts of numerous other associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access. Despite NMFS own data concerning the imperiled status of coho salmon in the Smith River, the agency rubber-stamped the project without giving it anything close to a sufficient review.

Background

Highway 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River Canyon that passes through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area and provides access to Redwood national and state parks. The Smith River is the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48. A 1989 Caltrans report acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.”

Highway 197 is a 7-mile, two-lane country road that runs north to south along the lower Smith River, just northeast of Crescent City. It is a rural-residential route with 72 driveways directly entering onto the road. In order to avoid Jedediah Smith State Park at the western edge of the project, oversized trucks would divert off Highway 199 and travel along Highway 197 to the north of Crescent City to reach Highway 101.

Court challenges to the related Caltrans project through Richardson Grove on Highway 101 in Humboldt County have resulted in rulings determining that Caltrans failed to adequately analyze the potential impacts of highway development on the ancient redwoods protected in Richardson Grove State Park.

A recently released independent review of Caltrans called for sweeping reforms of the agency and cited a “culture of fear” within Caltrans when it comes to deviating from standard policies. The statewide Caltrans Watch coalition has highlighted 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.

Order Granting Preliminary Injunction

EPIC Press Release: Federal Court Halts Caltrans Smith River Project


Injunction Sought to Halt Unnecessary Caltrans Highway-widening Project in Remote Northwest California

Thursday, March 20th, 2014
By

Photo by Scott HardingCaltrans Ignores Impacts to Smith River Canyon, Coho Salmon

EPIC along with several other conservation groups filed for a preliminary injunction in federal court today to halt construction of a Caltrans highway-widening project that would harm threatened coho salmon runs and undermine public safety along the wild and scenic Smith River Canyon in California’s remote Del Norte County. The project is aimed at widening narrow sections of highways 197 and 199 to provide access for oversized trucks. The conservation groups had challenged Caltrans’ approval of the project in federal and state court last year, for its inadequate review of the environmental impacts.

“Caltrans would have us believe allowing oversize trucks to drive faster through the tight Smith River canyon will make this scenic highway safer, yet it will do the opposite,” said Don Gillespie with Friends of Del Norte. “We are challenging this project to protect motorist safety and defend our treasured Smith River.”

Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) seek to halt construction on the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project.” It would increase unsafe heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the designated “wild and scenic” Smith River Canyon, negatively impacting tourism and local residents. Construction would harm habitat for coho salmon runs that the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) has identified as facing a high risk of extinction and core to the recovery of the species as a whole.

“The Smith River is one of California’s natural wonders as the last major undammed river in the state,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director of EPIC. “Our rivers are under incredible stress due to drought – this destructive highway widening project would unnecessarily put the Smith River and its salmon habitat at risk.”

“We will not let Caltrans degrade the pristine and ecologically important Smith River for its ill-advised network of routes for oversized trucks through coastal northwestern California,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This type of major roadwork shouldn’t occur along these narrow, rural roads and critical salmon habitat.”

Caltrans’ approval of the project did not follow the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a full evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of a project and consideration of viable alternatives. Caltrans’ project approval also violated the Wild and Scenic River Act and the Department of Transportation Act. NMFS is named on the lawsuit for violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to properly analyze whether the project will jeopardize protected coho salmon or their habitat.

Caltrans did not properly evaluate the threat project construction poses to salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River or safety hazards from increased truck traffic. Caltrans refused to consider alternatives besides widening the highway, adopted unsubstantiated findings about impacts and mitigation measures, and avoided looking at the cumulative impacts of numerous associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access. NMFS ignored its own data, including dire warnings concerning the status of coho in the Smith River, and rubber-stamped the project without giving it anything close to a sufficient review.

Background
Highway 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River Canyon that passes through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area. It provides access to Redwood national and state parks, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage sites in California. The Smith River is the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48. A 1989 Caltrans report acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.”

Highway 197 is a 7-mile, two-lane country road that runs north to south along the lower Smith River, just northeast of Crescent City. It is a rural-residential route with 72 driveways directly entering onto the road. In order to avoid Jedediah Smith State Park at the western edge of the project, oversized trucks would divert off Highway 199 and travel along Highway 197 to the north of Crescent City to reach Highway 101.

Court challenges to the related Caltrans project through Richardson Grove on Highway 101 in Humboldt County have resulted in rulings determining that Caltrans failed to adequately analyze the potential impacts of highway development on the ancient redwoods protected in Richardson Grove State Park.

A recently released independent review of Caltrans called for sweeping reforms of the agency and cited a “culture of fear” within Caltrans when it comes to deviating from standard policies. The statewide Caltrans Watch coalition has highlighted 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 plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Stuart Gross and Sharon Duggan, and the nationally recognized firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

Motion for Prelimiary Injunction

Click here to view EPIC Press Release

Click here to learn more about EPIC’s work on the Smith River project.


Public Action has Exposed Caltrans Need for Reform

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
By

RGRoadnoTruckOriginally published in the Eureka Times-Standard.

Caltrans is seriously out of step with the times, with the needs of the state of California, and with the North Coast community. EPIC has been voicing this criticism of Caltrans since we first rose to the defense of the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove. Now an independent study has come to that same conclusion.

The independent report, the SSTI Assessment and Recommendations, commissioned by Governor Brown and authored by the State Smart Transportation Initiative, was released in January 2014. The study finds that Caltrans is stuck in a car-centric culture, perpetually looking to build bigger, faster highways at a moment in history in which Californians are becoming acutely aware of the true financial and ecological costs of addiction to an outdated transportation model. The study also finds fault with the pattern of inadequate response to community concerns about social and environmental impacts of highway development, as well as a “culture of fear” within the agency.

Three Caltrans projects on California’s North Coast stand as examples of this “stuck-in-the-past” project planning.

The Willits Bypass is draining 90 acres of precious wetlands for a giant interchange made for a four-lane freeway that will do little to relieve local congestion. The argument for the need for the Bypass is based on traffic studies from decades ago. Caltrans implementation of the Bypass has been a circus of permit violations, spiced with the destruction of a cultural site, and clouded by an underfunded and unproven mitigation plan.

The highway “realignment” through Richardson Grove State Park seriously threatens mammoth ancient redwood trees, a fact confirmed by the state court of appeal, which recently ruled that Caltrans failed to adequately analyze the impact of their proposed project on the ancient redwoods. Incredibly, instead of designing alternatives and doing an in-depth environmental review that better reflect the desires of Californians and the environmental realities of our times, Caltrans wastes time and tax-payer money disregarding the intent of the courts by arrogantly steamrolling forward with the project. This “bully” behavior confirms the independent review conclusion that Caltrans is oblivious to the concerns of the public while unabashedly promoting environmentally damaging projects.

A related highway development project planned for Highway 199 in the northwestern-most corner of California poses direct and indirect threats to our redwood parks and the unparalleled salmon habitat of the wild Smith River in Del Norte County. EPIC has taken legal action in state and federal court to defend the Smith from this irresponsible highway development.

Our North Coast community deserves an honest, transparent, and open discussion about the impacts of highway development on our irreplaceable natural treasures, and about the costs and the benefits of this infrastructure development. This discussion must include recognizing the viability of alternatives 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. The imperative for Caltrans to respond positively to the demands of our community is emphasized by the successful efforts to challenge the agency in court, and by the independent review recommending serious reform of the agency.

Yet, Caltrans has refused to be forthright with residents about the direct impacts of their highway development projects, much less been willing to engage the public in a productive manner when concerns are raised, or even when the courts rule against the agency. In the absence of credible leadership by Caltrans, EPIC has challenged the legality of these projects with the immediate intent of protecting rare and sensitive environments, and with the long-term goal of leveraging successful court action into political momentum that will lead to a serious reform of the agency. A major restructuring of the California Department of Transportation is already under way; the question remains whether the recommendations of the independent review combined with the reality check of the court orders will be sufficient impetus to bring Caltrans out of the past.

There is no question that Caltrans needs significant reform to bring it into step with best practices in the transportation field, with the state of California’s policy expectations, and the true needs of North Coast residents. While the lawsuits are effective for enforcing the law, they do not permanently stop projects, and reform is what will lead to viable transportation solutions for our rural communities. This reform is not only the demand of citizen organizations from around the state; it is the recommendation of one of the nation’s leading authorities on sustainable transportation. The time has arrived to rein in Caltrans.


EPIC Victory for Richardson Grove

Thursday, January 30th, 2014
By

Save Richardson Grove Donate

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


EPIC Will Keep Pressure On Caltrans in 2014

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
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EPIC will continue in 2014 to advance initiatives that challenge unnecessary, wasteful, and environmentally harmful highway development projects proposed by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) on the North Coast of California.

In late December 2013, EPIC and partners received a significant set back in our efforts to “Rein in Caltrans” due to an unfavorable federal court decision regarding the challenge to the Willits Bypass Project. Despite the unfavorable ruling, our campaign to reform the largest road building agency on the planet will continue in earnest in 2014. Whether it be demanding that the State of California and Caltrans come to terms with the real implications of our transportation habits for local and global climate change, defending site specific sensitive environments like Richardson Grove State Park or the precious Smith River, or protecting the right of our communities to meaningful public participation in the decision making that can affect our daily lives, EPIC will keep the pressure on Caltrans in the coming year.

EPIC will endeavor along with strategic partners to hold Caltrans accountable to environmental law, and to increase the effectiveness with which local communities can influence the planning and decision-making processes of this behemoth agency. Our legal challenge regarding the Willits Bypass Project may have been unsuccessful in convincing the federal court that our concerns regarding Caltrans merited intervention in the implementation of the project, but we are steadfast in our commitment to defend and protect irreplaceable natural treasures on the North Coast of California from poorly conceived highway development projects.

In that context, on Wednesday, January 15, 2014, EPIC and partners, the Center for Biological Diversity and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, will present oral arguments before the State of California Court of Appeal regarding our California Environmental Quality Act challenge to the Caltrans Richardson Grove highway-widening project. The oral arguments for this case will be heard at 9 AM on Wednesday January 15, 2014 on the Fourth Floor of the First Appellate District Court of Appeal at 350 McAllister Street in San Francisco.

Two lawsuits were filed challenging the unnecessary project, which intends to widen Highway 101 as it winds through the towering ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park. EPIC and partners prevailed on the federal lawsuit when the federal court ruled in April 2012 that Caltrans had been “arbitrary and capricious” in their use of “faulty data” in the Richardson Grove project documentation, and the court ordered that Caltrans develop new documentation that would accurately assess the potential impact of the highway development project on rare ancient forest ecosystems protected in the State Park. A parallel state law case was developed challenging the permitting of the Caltrans project under the California Environmental Quality Act. Hearings for that case were originally held before the Humboldt County Superior Court on March 29, 2012, with a decision favorable to Caltrans issued at the end of June 2012. In the wake of that unfavorable decision, plaintiffs explored all of their options in the legal defense of the ancient redwoods against the unnecessary highway development, and in December 2012, EPIC filed a formal appeal of the Humboldt County Superior Court decision. It is that appeal that will be heard in San Francisco on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. We encourage defenders of Richardson Grove to come to the hearing and to be present in a respectful manner in support of our state parks and ancient redwoods.


Federal Court Allows Destructive Willits Bypass Project to Move Forward

Thursday, December 19th, 2013
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Willits Rein in Caltrans SlideSAN 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.

 


Recent EPIC Advocacy Success Adds Spice to Annual Fall Celebration

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
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Coup Poster no textThis coming Friday, November 1, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) is throwing it’s 36th birthday party with the annual EPIC Fall Celebration at the Mateel Community Center, in Redway, California. This is going to be a lively North Coast and harvest spiced community gathering that no one will want to miss. The EPIC Fall Celebration is one of the cornerstone fundraising and community outreach events for EPIC, and it is always a fun and engaging way to see friends and get to know the EPIC staff and board. The doors of the Mateel Hall will open at 6 PM for cocktails and snacks. A scrumptious Día de los Muertos style dinner will be served starting at 6:30 PM, followed by the evening program featuring the Sempervirens lifetime achievement award starting at 7:30 PM. At 9 PM a fantastic contemporary music line up will take the stage, starting with dub and reggae acts New Kingston and Indubious, followed by the acclaimed conscious hip-hop group The Coup.

This upbeat gathering to celebrate and support EPIC public interest conservation advocacy has become an annual tradition of festive proportions, and this year there is a particular excitement surrounding the celebration due to the massive public support for EPIC work to protect Richardson Grove State Park from the insatiable highway development agenda of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). In late September 2013, more than 16 months since the federal court in San Francisco had found Caltrans to be “arbitrary and capricious” in their use of “faulty data,” Caltrans came forth with the release of new documentation for the Richardson Grove project in the form of a “Supplement to the Final Environmental Assessment.” The release of this documentation required an agile and speedy response from the broad community of North Coast residents and California conservation advocates that have questioned the purpose, need, and design of the highway widening project that Caltrans is proposing for Richardson Grove. Within weeks EPIC and partners, including our invaluable ally the Center for Biological Diversity, were able to decipher and break down the new project documentation, and prepare a succinct action alert that was circulated broadly by email and social media and that facilitated the submission of comments by nearly 10,000 people from around the state, the country, and the world. The message from this incredible movement of active citizens is that Caltrans either drop the Richardson Grove project altogether, or do a proper analysis of the impacts of the project, including a robust examination of potential alternatives, in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The completion of an EIS for the project was implicitly suggested by the judge in the April 2012 court order that sent Caltrans back to the drawing board for the Richardson Grove project. Unfortunately the agency chose to ignore the court order and provided legally questionable and technically deficient documentation that will only lengthen the stalemate around the project and postpone the identification and design of comprehensive and community supported solutions for transportation planning, goods movement, and State Park protections. One of the triggers for an agency needing to complete an EIS is that a project generate a significant level of controversy. Clearly, the response of many thousands of people voicing opposition to the project, as well as a clear federal court order remanding the project to the agency for review “under a corrected lens of analysis” is an undeniable indication that this is a controversial project. It is obvious at this level that Caltrans must do a full EIS.

“The tremendous response of online activists, local community members, and statewide residents to our call to action to ‘Rein in Caltrans’ has been very exciting and inspirational,” said EPIC executive director Gary Graham Hughes. “Getting everyone together at our Fall Celebration this Friday will be a wonderful opportunity for like minded folks to relish this phenomenal level of citizen participation in efforts to promote a healthy human relationship with our landscapes here on the North Coast,” continued Hughes.

Whether it be working to eliminate the toxic damage from egregious cannabis agriculture operations, challenging the ongoing logging of the remaining old wild forest in our bioregion, or reforming the outdated and archaic Caltrans vision of perpetual development in an age of rapidly evident global climate change, EPIC is there as the guardian of your wild backyard. Joining the fun at the EPIC Fall Celebration is great way to support grassroots public interest advocacy in Northwest California, and a wonderful way to party with your friends and the team at EPIC. Come on out on Friday, November 1, to the Mateel Community Center and be part of the EPIC 2013 Fall Celebration.


Take Action to Protect the Irreplaceable Treasure of Richardson Grove

Thursday, October 10th, 2013
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Save Richardson Grove DonateClick Here to Take Action Now!

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 very serious remand from the federal court in April 2012, in which Caltrans was determined to have been “arbitrary and capricious” in their use of “false data,” Caltrans has defied the federal court order and has come back with inadequate documentation 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. This current public comment period is a critical juncture in the ongoing community supported campaign to stop Caltrans from conducting destructive activities amongst the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove, which were to be protected in perpetuity under the California State Park System. 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 when other viable alternatives are possible. Please take action now to ensure that this sacred and magical place is protected for future generations.

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.

Take Action Today! Rein in Caltrans! Protect the Irreplaceable Treasure of Richardson Grove!


Caltrans Fails to Follow Court Order, Provides Inadequate Richardson Grove Documentation

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
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Photo by Jeff MusgraveOn 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.

Caltrans-public_notice_richardson_grove_supplement_ea_09-2013


EPIC Supports Economic Connectivity

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
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20130315_143849Connectivity is one of the most important concepts related to the development of both effective conservation and viable long-term economic strategies. Over the course of our evolution as a public interest conservation advocacy organization, EPIC has worked hard to protect core natural areas, and to secure biological connectivity across the Northwest California landscape. With more than 35 years of experience in North Coast land management decision-making processes, EPIC has learned many lessons about how to successfully steer state and federal agencies, as well as large private landowners and rural residential communities, toward a landscape-scale vision for the stewardship of our forests and watersheds. What EPIC has also done over the years, and what receives less attention, is identify important opportunities to support economic development while still respecting the sensitive environments that make our region unique and a desirable place to live, work, and raise our children.

Over the course of the last several years the Northwest California region has been host to a contentious series of large-scale highway expansion projects promoted by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). At the same time, a parallel controversy has evolved around the persistence of certain economic interests in promoting what would prove to be very expensive and natural resource-damaging train transportation infrastructure to Humboldt Bay. As this debate goes forward, the current discourse concerning regional transportation needs fails to root itself in reality by ignoring critical infrastructure construction already underway. EPIC, based on the North Coast, and working through the five counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino counties, has taken a very public role in questioning and challenging the purpose and need, as well as the design and quality of environmental review, of several Caltrans highway expansion projects, most notably the Richardson Grove Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) project, the Willits Bypass project, and the Highway 197/199 STAA access project in the Smith River Canyon of Del Norte County. Though these Caltrans projects have resulted in high-profile lawsuits and textbook instances of environmental conflict, one of the largest and most important transportation infrastructure projects for our region is currently under construction, and is facing no opposition from our organization — and it is still largely ignored in the current debate about economic connectivity and future rail or highway development in our region.

The Buckhorn Summit project on Highway 299 is a highway-widening project intended to facilitate access between Interstate 5 and the North Coast of the largest trucks on the road today — the STAA supersized cab trucks that are so common on the national interstate highway system. EPIC has monitored and tracked the $60 million Buckhorn grade projects, just as our organization has monitored and tracked the other STAA access projects at Richardson Grove and on the Smith River. Though we have insisted in numerous comment letters and legal briefings that all the evidence proves that Caltrans must analyze the cumulative impact of their STAA highway widening projects on Highway 101, Highway 199, and Highway 299, the agency has refused to fulfill their obligation. Regardless of that failure on the part of the largest road building agency in the world to accurately and honestly disclose to the North Coast public the cumulative impacts of this region wide highway expansion project, EPIC has stood completely out of the way on the Buckhorn Summit projects.

The Buckhorn Summit projects are not without their environmental impacts — over the course of project implementation more than 2,000,000 cubic yards of earth will be moved to straighten and widen the well-known stretch of curves on Highway 299 right at the western border of Shasta County. This is no small project — but EPIC has strategically stayed out of the way of that project as a demonstration of our understanding of the importance of supporting connectivity for economic interests in Humboldt County that desire big STAA truck service for the North Coast. There is no question that the fastest most direct route for goods from the North Coast to national markets is the direct line out Highway 299 to Interstate 5 and all points north, east, and south.

The bottom line about these transportation issues is that EPIC is aware of and supporting economic connectivity, while standing true to our mission and defending the unique natural qualities of our bioregion from unnecessary, damaging, and wasteful infrastructure development projects in some of the most special places remaining to us on the North Coast, and indeed, our planet.

This article was originally published as a My Word opinion piece in the Eureka Times-Standard.


Connectivity and Compromise

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013
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North Coast Caltrans ProjectsOver the last several years the Northwest California region has been host to a series of increasingly contentious conflicts related to large-scale transportation infrastructure projects promoted by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). One of the principal arguments that EPIC has put forth to explain our engagement on these infrastructure development issues at unique places like Richardson Grove State Park and the Smith River Canyon is that the site specific and cumulative impacts of these projects have not been adequately disclosed and analyzed. EPIC’s challenge to Caltrans is often painted as obstructionist, and though our organization is intent on stopping poorly designed Caltrans projects and ultimately reforming the agency, our organization does have a sophisticated view of these projects as an integrated whole that is far from obstructionist.

Unbeknownst to many North Coast residents, the largest of the Caltrans big truck highway expansion projects is currently under construction—and the project has purposefully received no challenge from our organization. When completed in 2017, the $60 million Buckhorn grade infrastructure construction projects on Highway 299 will facilitate unfettered access along Hwy 299 between Interstate 5 and the North Coast for the largest trucks on the road today–the STAA supersized cab trucks that are so common on the nation’s interstate highway system.

The Buckhorn Summit projects are not without their environmental impacts–over the course of project implementation more than 2,000,000 cubic yards of earth will be moved to straighten and widen the famous stretch of steep curves on Highway 299 right at the western border of Shasta County. This is no small project–but EPIC has strategically remained distant from that project as a demonstration of our respect for the economic interests that desire big STAA truck access to the North Coast. There is no question that the fastest, most direct route for goods from Humboldt County to national markets is the direct line out Hwy 299 to Interstate 5 and all points north, east, and south.

The Buckhorn Summit STAA access projects make up an important infrastructure development that should be taken into consideration to understand the integrated vision of EPIC efforts to challenge Caltrans—and to understand the clearly inadequate analysis of cumulative impacts by the agency. While Caltrans has been pushing forward with their unnecessary STAA project in the Smith River Canyon, disregarding the input of local citizens and regional conservation groups, EPIC has stood aside on the Hwy 299 Buckhorn Summit projects in respect of the desires of local producers for improved large-scale transportation infrastructure development and STAA truck access.

What is happening here is that EPIC is willing to compromise in support of improved economic connectivity, while still standing true to our mission and defending the unique natural qualities of our bioregion from a road building agency that refuses to fully disclose the impacts of their highway development agenda. In this instance it can be rightly concluded that it is not EPIC that is refusing to compromise with Caltrans around the conflictive issues of highway development on the North Coast of California. It is instead Caltrans that refuses to compromise, and who leaves our community members little recourse other than resorting to legal means to ensure that our region is protected from unnecessary, damaging, and wasteful highway development projects in some of the most special places remaining to us on the North Coast, and indeed, our planet.

Read also the My Word article from the Times-Standard — EPIC Supports Economic Connectivity


EPIC Work to Protect Environmental Democracy Supports Community Solutions

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012
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For thirty-five years EPIC has played a vital and necessary role in the protection of the natural environment of northwestern California.  The organization’s mission is to protect and restore ancient forests, watersheds, coastal estuaries, and native species in Northern California.  EPIC uses an integrated, science-based approach, combining public education, citizen advocacy, and strategic litigation.  An essential part this strategy is how EPIC champions and promotes access to environmental democracy.

What is environmental democracy?  Environmental democracy is about government being transparent, accountable, and involving people in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and their environment.  In many parts of the world, citizens are still fighting for these basic freedoms and rights that many in the United States take for granted.  Indeed, it is likely that a large sector of the American public does not even think about access to environmental democracy.

In the United States, governmental agencies, like the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), were created and charged with the responsibility to uphold and enforce environmental laws to ensure that citizens have access to clean water, clean air and to a healthy environment from which to live and thrive.  Other federal and state agencies like the US Fish and Wildlife Services, Bureau of Land Management, National and State Parks, similarly were put in place to oversee and regulate these commonly held resources for the people of the United States of America.

Unfortunately, however, the very agencies and regulators that were put in place to safe-guard these values, time and time again, simply fail to get the job done.  Whether it is through complacency, corruption, or through a flawed system filled with bureaucrats and red-tape, agencies often lack the resources or ability to enforce the very laws they were created to uphold. Big industry and high-spending polluters with their endless resources, get their way despite overwhelming scientific data and public support surrounding the need for environmental regulation and protection.  That is where citizen watchdogs and public interest organizations like EPIC play a critically needed role, to ensure that this nation’s environmental laws are upheld and not undermined. Whether in the courtrooms, in the media, online with email or website updates, EPIC’s network of information helps to mobilize the public will, which in turn provides the necessary political pressure to help get the job done! The job of maintaining and enforcing environmental laws and protecting the natural world by promoting environmental democracy… the voice of the people, by people, for the people, for the environment.

In this vein, EPIC continues to be committed to promoting broad public participation in decision-making. Back room deals and secrecy have never been compatible with an open society. By demanding that government agencies and private corporations operate out in the open, we are working towards ensuring that a cornerstone of our democracy is vibrant and functioning. EPIC has exposed numerous proposed actions where government officials have attempted to short circuit the public’s role in the decision making process. One example of this limitation of public participation is the use of Categorical Exclusions or Exemptions from environmental analysis. Rather than receive public scrutiny over a proposal, the exemption process truly results in secretive and closed-door judgment calls that are poorly researched and counter to the public interest (see below).

Even when an open public process is ongoing, it is absolutely critical that the best available science and most recent research are presented to the public for consideration. By doing so, EPIC provides the public with the information, the public can then provide the voice and public will identifies and offers solutions to environmental problems by gathering and advancing the best available science to agencies, private parties and the general public.

 

Old-growth Douglas Fir marked for cut by the U.S. Forest Service.

Little Cronan Timber Sale

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to log an old-growth forest stand using a “Categorical Exclusion” without an environmental analysis. The project would log nesting habitat for the northern spotted owl, build landings, and a road over a trail leading to the Marble Mountain Wilderness within a watershed that is critical for salmon recovery.

EPIC was successful at halting this project for over a year, based on Forest Service violations of the Endangered Species Act; however the Forest Service is again circulating this timber sale that ignores the best available science, public comments, the law, and undermines the public’s trust in its actions.

Richardson Grove

Photo by Juan Pazos

Since 2007, EPIC and our allies have held Caltrans accountable to the law. Initially Caltrans was only going to do the bare minimum of environmental analysis for the Richardson Grove ‘Improvement’ Project—a Categorical Exemption, which is reserved for projects that do not have a significant impact on the environment.  Had EPIC not intervened on behalf of the Grove, it is likely the project would likely have already been built, with very little environmental analysis, and zero public input.


EPIC Continues to Hold Caltrans Accountable to the Law

Thursday, July 12th, 2012
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Photograph copyrighted 2010 Jack Gescheidt, TreeSpiritProject.com

The legal proceedings for Richardson Grove continue, this time with a State Court decision, which appears to agree with Caltrans.  However, there has yet to be a final decision on the merits of the case.

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen handed down a 30-page order that found that Caltrans made “no violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) at this time.” The judge said that there is substantial evidence to show that the project will have no significant effect on ancient redwoods in the park, and ruled against all, but possibly one count brought by EPIC and fellow petitioners.  A violation may be found if Caltrans has not adopted a “reporting or monitoring program” that is “designed to ensure compliance during project implementation.”

“It is disappointing that the State Court did not find the legal errors that we believe are well documented, said Natalynne DeLapp, EPIC spokesperson. “However, we are thankful that the federal judge found that Caltrans was in the wrong when they based their findings of no significant impact on ‘false data’ and ordered them to go back and redo critical aspects of their analysis, including surveying and describing the environmental issues to each and everyone of more than 70 old growth redwood trees in the project area. This firm ruling on the part of the federal court still stands, and there is nothing in the state court ruling that can or will change that fact.”

At this time, the federal injunction remains in effect, which prevents Caltrans from beginning work on the project, pending the resubmission of the new maps and analysis to the judge in order that the federal case can proceed.

Since 2007, EPIC and our allies have held Caltrans accountable to the law. Initially Caltrans was only going to do the bare minimum of environmental analysis for the Richardson Grove ‘Improvement’ Project—a Categorical Exemption, which is reserved for projects that do not have a significant impact on the environment.  Had EPIC not intervened on behalf of the Grove, it is likely the project would likely have already been built, with very little environmental analysis, and zero public input.

“Win or lose, EPIC has done its job,” said DeLapp. “We have held Caltrans accountable to the law and the people. With regards to the State Case, now there is a court ordered mandate that will make Caltrans fully comply with environmental law—if the project is actually implemented. ”


Strategic Partnerships Key to EPIC Regional Initiative to Rein in Caltrans

Thursday, May 24th, 2012
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Photo by Jeff MusgraveIt has been more than four years that EPIC has been working in coalition with a large and diverse group of allies to challenge the Caltrans proposal to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. The effectiveness of this teamwork was proven in the broad grassroots campaign that provided a solid foundation of public support for litigation that has thus far resulted in a resounding judicial scolding of Caltrans with the remand order  provided by the Northern District Federal Court in early April 2012.

Amongst the important partnerships that EPIC developed in the Richardson Grove case were those with the group of citizens and the organizations that joined as co-plaintiffs. EPIC is pleased to still be working with Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) as we await the decision that will be forthcoming in the state case before the end of June. Despite uncertainty, we have confidence in the strength of the case that has been presented.

As EPIC is working closely with CBD on a variety of issues, such as endangered species activism for the seriously at risk Humboldt Marten and reforming private lands forest policy, it has been exciting to step up and participate in a new coalition effort challenging Caltrans. EPIC is a part of the legal challenge to the unnecessary and out of touch Willits By Pass Project, an enormous and expensive 4-lane highway infrastructure project slated to cross sensitive wetlands in the Willits area. In this case there are four plaintiffs: Mendocino Lake Sierra Club, EPIC, CBD, and the Willits Environmental Center (WEC).

Though the necessity of having to take action on this issue is unfortunate, and forced by a Caltrans culture that refuses to let go of an expensive boondoggle, the honor of supporting Ellen and David Drell is immense. As a means of sharing with the citizens of the region their knowledge about the issue, EPIC’s Gary Graham Hughes spoke with David and Ellen about the Willits By Pass Project on the EPIC Edition of the KMUD Environment Show. (listen HERE) The show is an in-depth look at the history of the project design, the environmental considerations in terms of the wetlands loss, and why such venerated activists such as the Drell’s of the WEC would stand up to challenge the Willits By Pass project. Our colleagues at WEC are exemplary amongst exemplary partners.

On the north end of the region EPIC is in constant contact with Friends of Del Norte as we monitor the STAA access highway development proposal that Caltrans has been preparing to unleash along Highway 197/199 through the narrow canyons and ancient redwoods of the pristine Smith River. The growing realization of the environmental impact of the behemoth road building agency became acute throughout the planning process for the Richardson Grove highway development project, and has organically transformed into a regional initiative to Rein in Caltrans. This initiative seeks to to force Caltrans to alter or abandon their most environmentally egregious highway widening projects; and to publicize and reform the flawed decision-making and environmental review process that allow these wasteful and destructive projects to move forward.

EPIC is dedicating energy to building an active constituency and membership that supports our policy stances and legal actions on these issues. We know, especially when we converse with visionaries like David and Ellen at WEC, and Friends of Del Norte that this is a line of work that is important for protecting the natural qualities of our bioregion, and for directly addressing the obstacles that our communities face in the pursuit of a truly sustainable economic development that is appropriate for our region as well as a coherent response to the times in which we live.

This regional initiative to Rein in Caltrans will continue to grow. Stay tuned for updates, and for our efforts to contribute to a building movement. Listen to the interview with the Drells and get informed about the Willits By Pass Project.

Join us as we Rein in Caltrans!


EPIC Win for Richardson Grove

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012
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A federal judge today ordered Caltrans to redo critical aspects of its environmental analysis for a controversial project that would widen and realign Highway 101 through the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park in Humboldt County. Citing numerous errors in Caltrans’ mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco ordered Caltrans to correct its errors and prepare a detailed new analysis that considers potential harm to the roots of each individual redwood tree in the project’s path. A coalition of conservation groups and local community members filed a lawsuit in 2010 to halt the project.

“Despite the importance of Richardson Grove and the incredible public outcry against this project, Caltrans didn’t even accurately measure and map the ancient redwood trees that its misguided highway expansion proposal puts at risk,” said Gary Hughes of the Environmental Protection Information Center, a plaintiff group based in Humboldt County. “This unnecessary project would cause irreparable damage to one of our most prized state parks, the venerable old-growth grove and its wildlife, and also harm tourism and the coastal communities of Humboldt County. It’s time to scrap this project for good.”

The proposal to realign a section of Highway 101 that winds through old-growth redwoods in Richardson Grove State Park to accommodate large-truck travel would require extensive cutting into the roots of towering redwoods along the highway. Root loss would likely kill at least some of the majestic trees, and highway work would also harm endangered species like the marbled murrelet and Northern spotted owl. Caltrans’ proposed assault on Richardson Grove, the fabled “redwood curtain” at the entrance to rural Humboldt County, has been met with widespread opposition from local residents, business owners, conservation groups, American Indians and economists. Conservation groups secured a federal court injunction in July 2011 stopping the project from moving forward until the case could be heard.

“Less than 3 percent of our ancient redwood trees remain, yet Caltrans wants to cut through, injure and pave over the roots of giant redwoods in a state park for the sake of a few more oversized trucks speeding through the grove, and expects us to believe there won’t be any damage,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ll keep fighting until Caltrans drops this misguided project.”

“Caltrans must give us a clear and accurate description of how building a modern roadbed in Richardson Grove can harm precious and rare environmental resources that belong to us all,” said Patty Clary, Director of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. “That would be democracy in action. That’s what the court preserved in this ruling, the right of Americans to have these important decisions made in the light of day, not behind closed doors.”

Plaintiffs in the case are the Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Trisha Lee Lotus, Bess Bair, Bruce Edwards, Jeffrey Hedin and Loreen Eliason. Trisha Lotus is the great granddaughter of Henry Devoy, who transferred the redwood forest that became Richardson Grove State Park to California in 1922. The plaintiffs are represented by San Francisco attorney Stuart Gross, Oakland attorney Sharon Duggan, a team from San Francisco law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy that includes Philip Gregory and former congressman “Pete” McCloskey, and Kevin Bundy of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Click here for the Judge’s Order.

Background

Established in 1922, Richardson Grove State Park was recently rated as one of the top 100 state parks in the United States. The park attracts thousands of visitors from around the world every year to explore one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwoods. It is here that drivers first encounter significant old-growth forest when heading north on Highway 101, and this popular tourist destination has provided many people with a transformative experience walking through some of the oldest living beings on the planet. The park also provides 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. Currently, the California State Parks system is facing a multitude of threats beyond inappropriate highway development. Two parks near Richardson Grove on the South Fork of the Eel River are slated for closure.

The lawsuit was brought for violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and Administrative Procedures Act. The environmental assessment prepared by Caltrans failed to acknowledge the full extent of the project’s impacts, as required by federal and state laws, including the effects of cutting through and paving over the widespread but shallow network of roots holding Richardson Grove together, the consequences of stockpiling lead-contaminated soil in an area draining to the designated “wild and scenic” South Fork Eel River, and the far-reaching impacts of opening the road to larger trucks. Caltrans also failed to adopt legally required measures to reduce these impacts and failed to consider less-damaging alternatives.

Caltrans first proposed the highway widening project in 2007 with minimal environmental and public review. Faced with immediate and widespread community opposition, the agency prepared a full “environmental impact report” but has still has not shown that its experimental, unproven construction methods will not irreparably harm Richardson Grove. 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 highway widening does not serve the region’s best interests. Caltrans claims it is needed to legally accommodate large-truck travel on this section of highway. However, it appears from Caltrans’ own statements and signage 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 either for safety or for goods movement and the economy. Since smaller-sized commercial trucks already travel through the grove to deliver goods to Humboldt County, the best alternative would be to leave the highway as it is and retain the integrity of the grove.


Richardson Grove Legal Proceedings Continue Apace

Thursday, March 15th, 2012
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The legal challenge to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) approval of their highway development project in Richardson Grove State Park will continue to evolve over the next several weeks.

The state case hearings originally scheduled for March 14 in Humboldt County Superior Court in Eureka were canceled and then reset. The hearing in the state case will now be heard on Thursday, March 22, at 8:30 AM in Courtroom 8 of the Humboldt Country Superior Court.

After the oral arguments in the Federal Case were heard on February 23 in San Francisco, the presiding judge ordered a site visit to the Richardson Grove in order to fact check details important to the case. This site visit took place on March 5, and the resulting report was filed on March 13. Both plaintiffs and defendants will have until March 26 to prepare and file a briefing in concern of the report arising from the site visit. This means that it is unlikely that the Federal Court will issue a decision on this case before the end of March 2012.

Our team at EPIC will continue to work to keep people interested in this crucial state parks defense initiative in as timely a manner as possible. Please visit the saverichardsongrove.org for updates, subscribe to our electronic newsletter at EPIC’s main wildcalifornia.org website, and “like” our Facebook page to receive nearly daily updates about our work for state parks, endangered species, and the wild forests of Northwest California.