Rein in Caltrans

If you held the purse strings to Caltrans, how would you spend your tax dollars?

Monday, August 24th, 2015
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CRTP_LOGO_2ColorWould you build bigger freeways or fix existing failing roadways and infrastructure?

Would you chose to bulldoze through a wetland in order to reduce a five and a half hour drive time by five minutes or would you make improvements to portions of the road known to regularly cause deadly accidents? Would you design projects to accommodate the needs of commercial interests or the regional community who use the roads?

These are the questions, we at EPIC continue to ask ourselves and we would like to know what you think—what are your transportation priorities?

For the past 7-years, EPIC has defended the ancient redwood forest of Richardson Grove State Park and the Wild and Scenic Smith River from two highway realignment projects the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has designed in order to allow oversized trucks into sensitive environments. The purpose of these projects is questionable, with dubious economic justifications and known negative environmental impacts. Are these projects what the North Coast wants and needs?

Our court cases have stopped the projects and have shown a lack of agency consideration to legal obligations; and over the years public perception has changed, especially in Sacramento, regarding what should Caltrans’ priorities be. EPIC is committed to holding the line for the legal defense for Richardson Grove, and the Smith River 197/199 Project; however lawsuits slow, they do not typically make projects go away. We believe that with increased public pressure and new information, we can build the political momentum needed to stop these projects once and for all.

I would like to introduce you to a newly created organization called the, Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities (CRTP). CRTP is dedicated to a new vision for transportation on California’s North Coast. Their vision is to build on the geographic advantage of the North Coast by encouraging spending of limited transportation infrastructure dollars on projects that ensure a high quality of life for the community. They reject the outdated idea that limited transportation dollars should be spent on building ever-wider roads, but instead, focus on maintaining the roads and bridges we have in order to ensure that people can continue to get to local homes and businesses—and then improve our community-level infrastructure to ensure that they want to stay.

The Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities will be on redwood coast community radio station, the KMUD Environment Show, on Tuesday, August 25th, from 7-8pm. Listen live at 99.1FM or stream it live or archived at KMUD.org

On Wednesday, August 26th CRTP is hosting a “Meet and Greet” from 5-7pm at the Chapala Café (201 Second St, Eureka). These are informal occasions for anyone interested in the issues to talk about CRTP’s plans and priorities as well as other local transportation topics.

CRTP Priorities

Spend our limited transportation dollars on maintenance and repairs first. For many years, our state and our nation have built more and bigger infrastructure than we can afford to maintain. On the North Coast, the rugged and unstable terrain combined with the age of our roads and bridges make this problem particularly acute. Our crumbling roads and bridges put basic access for residents and emergency services at risk. Fixing these problems needs to come before we even consider expanding existing roadways.

Only fund new infrastructure that supports healthy, livable, sustainable communities. The road-building, road-widening approach to transportation planning is a relic of an earlier era—a fact reflected by Caltrans’ current mission and policies. When we build new infrastructure today, it should be with the goal of supporting safe, environmentally sustainable, community-building modes of transportation, such as walking, bicycling, mass transit, and responsible marine transportation.

Cancel counterproductive road expansion projects. We can no longer afford new infrastructure for the biggest fossil fuel-burning vehicles. Thanks to the “Buckhorn Grade” project, the biggest trucks on the road will soon have two ways to enter Humboldt and Del Norte Counties—via US 101 from Oregon and Highway 299 from Redding. The proposed Caltrans projects at Richardson Grove and on Highways 199/197 would add two more segments to this STAA trucking network, inviting even more big trucks into our communities and increasing greenhouse gas emissions at a time when Governor Brown has required Caltrans to reduce them. These projects are expensive, unnecessary and damaging to our roads, communities and environments. They reflect outdated planning priorities, and they do not serve our local needs. They can and should be canceled.


Last Chance Grade: Looking at Alternatives

Monday, June 8th, 2015
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Last Chance GradeThe Redwood Highway, also known as Highway 101, is the main north-south arterial connection for north coast residents and visitors alike. “Last Chance Grade” is a stretch of Highway 101 about ten miles south of Crescent City, which sits precariously high above the Pacific Ocean and experiences frequent landslides due to the geological instability of the area. Within this corridor, landslides have been an ongoing problem for decades, resulting in regular road closures. Currently, Caltrans is in the beginning stages of planning for the Last Chance Grade Project. The agency is considering possible alternatives and reroutes that would take the road along an inland path to the east through coastal scrub, riparian and young, mature and old-growth forests within the Del Norte Coast State and National Park boundaries.

lcg_cultural-and-environmental-resourcesThe project bypass proposals are big and expensive and one could result in the removal of up to three acres of old-growth redwoods (30-50 trees); all would result in significant cuts to the hillside with nearly a million cubic yards of fill that would need to be disposed of (and not in the nearby creeks). All bypass alternatives would directly impact the natural resources in and visitor access to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. If Caltrans were to follow its traditional methods of operation, the project would result in major conflict and controversy.

Perhaps sensing that Last Chance Grade could be yet another disastrous Caltrans project, Congressman Jared Huffman stepped in and commissioned the creation of the Last Chance Grade Stakeholder Working Group. Elected officials from Humboldt and Del Norte County, three tribes, members of the public, business interests and environmental organizations, including EPIC, have a seat at the table. Over the next ten meetings, the group is tasked with reaching consensus to recommend one or two alternatives to Caltrans that would be the “preferred” alternative(s) to address the geological instability and potential for roadway failure at Last Chance Grade.

Thus far, the stakeholders have meet twice, toured the slide area and spoken with Caltrans’ geotechnical engineer about the slide and learned about existing construction fixes to the roadbed. According to Caltrans, the slide is nearly one mile long, about 2,500 feet wide and at a minimum 250 feet deep. The sheer size of the slide, the steepness of the cliff and the composition of the geology make the project area difficult to design around. Caltrans repaves the roadway monthly to combat sinking. The stakeholders are exploring all viable options including using the existing right of way, by way of a viaduct, and a tunnel.

This multi-stakeholder process is the first for Caltrans District 1. Perhaps the agency is learning that the community deserves an honest and open discussion about the social and environmental impacts of highway development? This process is a far cry from the way in which Caltrans District 1 first attempted to fast-track approval of the STAA highway-widening project at Richardson Grove State Park back in 2007. For the past seven years, EPIC has been calling on the agency to explain its decisions, take into account community concerns and operate in accordance with the law. “These should not be ridiculous expectations for a public agency,” said Natalynne DeLapp, Executive Director of EPIC. “However, three contentious lawsuits: Richardson Grove, Willits Bypass and the Smith River’s 199/197 projects have shown that Caltrans was not forthcoming with the public or respecting our laws.”

Caltrans has an opportunity to get it right with Last Chance Grade. There is little question among EPIC staff that the project has a legitimate need: to maintain motorist safety and connectivity of the major highway between Oregon and California. “We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the process and will work cooperatively with the stakeholders to find solutions that will adequately address the needs of the community, while protecting the rare and sensitive environments,” said Natalynne. “As this project unfolds, EPIC will continue to advocate for full public transparency and protection of old-growth redwood forest and salmon habitat values.”

Click here to listen to KHSU’s May 28 Thursday Night Talk as Eric Kirk interviews Natalynne DeLapp about Last Chance Grade and other transportation projects on the North Coast.

Click here to listen to KMUD’s May 25 Environment Show host Natalynne DeLapp discusses transportation, the environment and quality of life on the North Coast with Dave Spreen. 


Update on Caltrans’ Last Chance Grade Project

Thursday, February 19th, 2015
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Drilling Last Chance Grade

Caltrans recently held a series of public workshops seeking input from the public as the agency considers possible alternatives and reroutes in an attempt to find a long-term solution for the Last Chance Grade — a stretch of U.S. Highway 101 about ten miles south of Crescent City, which sits precariously high above the Pacific Ocean and experiences frequent landslides due to the geological instability of the area.

lcg_preliminary-alternativesThe road-building agency is currently examining a number of preliminary alternatives that would reroute Highway 101 to the east through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and private timberland. The reroutes would impact old-growth, mature and young redwood forests, coastal spruce forests and Mill Creek, which provides the best spawning habitat for the federally endangered Coho salmon  in the Smith River basin. The price tag for these projects run between $200 million to over $1 billion.

There is little question among the staff at EPIC that the project has a legitimate need: to maintain motorist safety and to connectivity of the major highway between Oregon and California; but we believe that all viable options for avoiding impacts to our natural resources must be thoroughly studied, and these studies must be made available to the public, before the project proceeds.

Specifically, studies regarding the feasibility of using the existing right of way for the project – through more permanent stabilization efforts than are currently taking place, use of a viaduct, or other measures – must be conducted and made available to the public. Despite what Caltrans officials said at the public meetings, EPIC does not consider this to be a “no action” alternative. Instead, we would like to see the feasibility of taking action within or near the existing roadway first. If a study concludes that this is infeasible, Caltrans should select an alternative that avoids impacts to old-growth redwoods to the greatest extent possible. For impacts that are truly unavoidable, Caltrans should implement mitigation that enhances old growth redwood and salmon habitat values. EPIC supports keeping the project as a 2-lane, 55mph road.

As this project unfolds, EPIC will continue to advocate for full public transparency and protection of old-growth redwood forest and salmon habitat values.

Click here to be redirected to Caltrans’ website for technical documents.


EPIC in Review

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015
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salmon-river-spring-M-Aaron CowanEPIC in Review, a summary of original comments submitted and letters signed to support conservation across the state and nation.

EPIC submitted substantive comments on the Draft Working Group Charters for the California Timber Regulation and Forest Restoration Program. The California Natural Resources Agency (CRNA) and the California Environmental Protection Agency (CAL EPA) are implementing the provisions and intent of Assembly Bill 1492. EPIC has reviewed the draft working group charters for Ecological Performance, Data and Monitoring and Administrative Performance Measures. The draft charters lack fundamental foundation definitions, goals, and objectives; and EPIC does not believe it to be a true public process designed to deliver necessary change. If ecological standards and performance measures are intended to secure vibrant forests, healthy rivers, and abundant, self-sustaining wildlife populations, then measurable objectives must be defined and monitored. They must be science-based, and done out-in-the-open in a collaborative process using the input of stakeholders from outside of the usual agency and industry suspects. EPIC supports the concept of a comprehensive review and analysis of the existing forest practice regulatory system.

Six Rivers & Klamath National Forest road maintenance plans: EPIC submitted scoping comments on the Six Rivers Road Maintenance Project. The project proposes to maintain and treat portions of up to 2,682 miles of National Forest Transportation System roads on Six Rivers National Forest and Klamath National Forest. We urge the agency to scale down the project either in size, timing or by other means to allow a sufficient analysis to the impacts.

Grazing leases in the King’s Range: EPIC joined with Western Watersheds and submitted comments on the proposed renewal of Grazing Leases in the King’s Range National Conservation Area.  The HJ Ridge grazing lease includes 1,160 acres of public land with approximately 1,000 acres in wilderness. The Spanish Flat grazing lease includes 9,100 acres of public land, all entirely within wilderness. EPIC believes that livestock grazing is degrading wilderness character, impacting cultural and ecological resources, and recreational experience. With ongoing drought and climate change issues, and lack of water for livestock, the Bureau of Land Management should be working with the public to close these allotments to further commercial livestock use. We urge the BLM to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before renewing these leases.

EPIC Submitted comments in support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rule to list the West Coast Distinct Population Segment of the Pacific Fisher as a “threatened” species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The letter encourages the Service to designate Critical Habitat for the Fisher at the time of listing.

Vote NO on H.R. 161, the Natural Gas Pipelines Permitting Reform Act: EPIC co-signed a letter urging representatives to oppose HR 161, a bill that would spread pipelines into parks, forests, and private property, across the country thereby fragmenting forests and causing loss of critical habitat. HR 161 seeks to rubber-stamp Federal Energy Regulatory Committee permits, superseding states’ authority to provide their own protection under the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Protection Act.

EPIC signed a coalition letter opposing H.R. 399, the “Secure our Borders First Act of 2015.” Under the guise of enhancing border security, H.R. 399 would further militarize areas already glutted with walls and roads; undermine environmental laws, and allow more damage to the fragile border environment. Sections 3 and 13 would only harm wildlife, and communities on the border while doing nothing to increase border security.

EPIC signed on in support of Booker’s Amendment #155 to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill, S.1. This amendment ensures agencies disclose any significant new circumstances or information on the environmental, public health, social, and other impacts resulting from the project and that the Keystone XL Pipeline is subject to the same requirements as all other major pipelines.

EPIC signed on to letter challenging unmitigated Navy Testing and Training in the Pacific Northwest: The Navy shows a continued failure to protect whales, dolphins and other marine life from behavioral disruptions such as the separation of mothers and calves, and injury such as permanent hearing loss. They must develop alternatives and mitigation measures in a wholesale revision of the DEIS.

EPIC signed on to a Letter to Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior re: the Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS) of the Northwest Forest Plan: The ACS is largely responsible for higher quality aquatic habitats, enhanced water quality, sustenance of imperiled salmon and associated recreational and commercial fisheries, restoration of sediment and hydrologic regimes, increased floodwater retention, and countless other ecological and economic benefits that flow from healthy watersheds. Emerging science on climate change, stream conditions, nutrient retention and other issues justify more, not less, protection, yet despite its success, the ACS is under attack. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, the land management agencies charged with its administration, are being pressured by Congress to dismantle or significantly weaken the ACS.


Action Alert: Tell Caltrans to study impacts before advancing the Four Bridges Project

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
By
Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is proposing to upgrade four existing  bridges along the Avenue of the Giants, a world-famous scenic drive along old Highway 101, through the ancient redwood groves of Redwood State Park.

Take Action: Tell Caltrans that it needs to adequately study impacts, and adequately inform the public, before they move forward with the project.

Elk Creek Bridge

Elk Creek Bridge

Caltrans released an Initial Study with Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration for the “Avenue of the Giants – Four Bridges Project” over the holidays, comments are due on Monday, February 2.  (A “Mitigated Negative Declaration” is a CEQA document that essentially says that environmental impacts will be mitigated below significant levels, and therefore that further study of the project impacts is unnecessary.) As proposed, this project would involve upgrades to bridge and guard railings and repaving of the existing roadway on each side of four bridges on Avenue of the Giants/Route 254, and all of this work would occur within and around ancient redwoods and important salmon habitat. Yet, despite the precious resources potentially threatened by this project, Caltrans is pushing the project through without adequately analyzing or disclosing to the public the impacts of the project.

 Tell Caltrans:
* Impacts to redwoods need to be fully analyzed, and all conclusions need to be fully explained to the public, before work begins in and around their roots.
* Adequate, and fully explained, measures to avoid spills or other stream disturbances need to be developed before Caltrans begins working over streams with important fish habitat.
* Caltrans needs to recirculate the Initial Study with Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration with all underlying studies and documents in order to be transparent with the public about the project and its potential impacts to public resources, and in order to comply with CEQA which requires that the public be provided this information for comment.

Impacts to Trees
Caltrans maintains that the project area contains 46 coastal redwood trees. While the Initial Study and Proposed Mitigated Negative Declaration notes that “[i]t is difficult to develop a mitigation strategy that adequately offsets a project’s impacts to old growth redwood trees, due to their size and age,” it nevertheless concludes that the study will have “less than significant” impacts on these trees. The impacts on each tree in the area were rated on a 0-6 scale corresponding with the magnitude of impacts of the projects on the tree: eleven trees were rated “0” (no effect); fourteen were rated “1” (effect of root zone disturbance is extremely minor with no decline in foliage density or tree health); and twenty-two were rated “2” (effect of root zone disturbance is very slight with no decline in foliage density or tree health). Exactly how this rating system was developed, or how the trees were rated, however, was not disclosed. For trees rated “2,” for instance, the Initial Study indicates that there may be project activities closer than 10 feet from the base of these trees. Caltrans needs to explain why it believes that this work occurring so close to the trees would cause only “very slight”  root zone disturbance.

Various avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures are proposed to reduce impacts to redwoods. Many, however, contain inadequate descriptions regarding how they will be carried out. For example, one such measure is “no roots greater than two inches in diameter will be cut,” however the Initial Study does not describe how work crews will achieve this.

In short, Caltrans has not demonstrated that it takes seriously the great responsibility of working near our precious ancient redwoods, and that it deserves our trust when they say that the project will leave these trees unharmed.

Impacts on Fish
The bridges at issue span Ohman Creek, Elk Creek, Bridge Creek and Bear Creek, all four of which provide habitat for Chinook and Coho salmon, among other aquatic creatures. As with its analysis of impacts on redwoods, Caltrans concludes that the impacts of the project on fish will be “less than significant,” but it provides little evidence to support this conclusion.

Furthermore, the document acknowledges that unexpected impacts to fish can occur from “unintended spills, increased sedimentation, and alteration of pH.”

Collapse Jan. 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Eberhard Willits News

Collapse Jan. 22, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Eberhard Willits News

As we have unfortunately learned from the recent collapse of the overpass at Willits Bypass, which spilled wet concrete into a nearby stream, raising the pH of the stream to a level that can kill fish immediately, unintended events can have huge impacts. But the “avoidance, minimization, and/or mitigation measures” provided in the Initial Study for the Four Bridges Project for potential impacts to anadromous fish are vague and inadequate. Before starting work above and around these streams, Caltrans should provide additional assurances that spills and other disturbances of the creeks in the project area will be prevented, and it should develop and circulate for public review a site-specific emergency response plan for spills or other disturbances of the streams.

CEQA violations
CEQA requires that all documents referenced in a proposed mitigated negative declaration be made available to the public. (See Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21092; CEQA Guidelines  § 15072). In this Mitigated Negative Declaration, however, many conclusions rely entirely on referenced documents and surveys, which were not made publicly available, in clear violation of CEQA.

While ultimately it may be that Caltrans believes it has put adequate measures in place to reduce environmental impacts of this project to acceptable levels, it needs to prove this to the public by publicly releasing all underlying documents so that the public – as a participant in the process for informed decision-making – can review and comment on all the information.

This must be done before Caltrans can act to decide this project.

Click here to be directed to Caltrans’ website for technical studies.


Save Richardson Grove: Think Globally, Act Locally

Sunday, January 25th, 2015
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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.

 


Caltrans Setting Sights on Redwood National Park

Thursday, January 15th, 2015
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Last Chance GradeCaltrans is in the beginning stages of planning for the Last Chance Grade Project along Highway 101 (10-miles south of Crescent City), where the highway is slipping into the Pacific Ocean. This project would have significant environmental impacts, as the highway would likely be rerouted to the east through Redwood State and National Parks.

EPIC is committed to finding the least environmentally destructive alternative for this project and will work tireless to hold Caltrans to the law. We need your help. Please attend the meeting most convenient to you. We need to show Caltrans that the community is paying attention to this project and let them know we will protect our ancient redwood forests and coho salmon-bearing streams. Click here to learn more about the project.

A series of community workshops will be held to get public input and ideas on a range of possible alternatives for Last Chance Grade. Come to a workshop to learn more and share your ideas:
Crescent City – Monday, January 26, 2015
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Del Norte County Fairgrounds
Arts & Crafts Building
421 Highway 101 North

Eureka – Tuesday, January 27, 2015
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Wharfinger Building
Great Room
Eureka Public Marina, #1 Marina Way

Klamath – Wednesday, January 28, 2015
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Yurok Tribal Office
Klamath Community Room
190 Klamath Boulevard

These meetings are being characterized as a series of workshops, with small breakout groups. There are six different preliminary alternatives for consideration that will be further analyzed as part of the design engineered feasibility study that will be completed by July 2015. All meetings will be verbally recorded so that the content is sufficiently captured. We have seen no notification to the public regarding these meetings.


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

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
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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
By

Tall.RGsmall

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
By

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.


Aerial Tour of Summer 2013 Fires

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013
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Aerial Tour of Summer 2013 Fires

In September, as Public Land Advocate for EPIC, I was provided the opportunity to do an aerial tour of this summer’s wildfires.  As with most fires in Northern California, a majority of the fire areas burned at low and moderate severity.  Over 50 miles of bulldozer lines were constructed and estimated costs for suppression efforts reached up to one million dollars per day.  EPIC advocates for appropriate land management in order to restore fire on the landscape and to protect communities rather than continuing the expensive chaotic military style of fire suppression.

There are always lessons to learn after an active fire season.  This year, local river communities and tribes worked closely with fire and Forest Service personnel, unlike years past.  These small changes over time may one day find us well-prepared and ready to welcome fire.  (All photos courtesy of Kimberly Baker, unless otherwise noted.)

Salmon River Complex

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Salmon River Panoramic: Butler Fire on left, Forks Fire on right – photo courtesy of Thomas Dunklin

Butler

The human caused Butler Fire on the main stem Salmon River reached over 22,000 acres and burned for nearly two months.  The estimated cost for suppression was $36,000,000.  Approximately 27 miles of bulldozer lines and approximately 10 miles of hand fire lines were constructed.

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Surrounding Butler Flat – Photo courtesy of Thomas Dunklin

 

Overview of mosaic burn patterns

Overview of mosaic burn patterns

 

Fire line near Orleans Mt. summit - Photo courtesy of Kimberly Baker

Fire line near Orleans Mt. summit

 

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Fire line Somes Mt. summit

 

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Extensive 5 mile bulldozer line on Hotelling Ridge

 

Forks (North Fork)

The human caused North Fork Salmon River Fire reached nearly 15,000 acres.  It burned for the month of August with suppression costs of $23,000,000.  Over 8 miles of hand fire lines were constructed as well as over 5 miles of bulldozer lines. Overall, a vast majority, 10,658 acres of the fire burned at low severity, 3,250 at moderate and 802 acres burned at high severity.

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Complete overview North Fork Fire – Photo courtesy of Thomas Dunklin

 

Downstream Forks Fire - Photo courtesy of Kimberly Baker

Downstream Forks Fire

 

Fire line burnout - Photo Courtesy of Kimberly Baker

Fire line burnout

 

 Dance Fire

The Dance Fire in the town of Orleans reached 650 acres and burned for nearly a week.  Tragically a home belonging to a Karuk elder was completely lost.

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Dance Fire

 

Corral

The naturally ignited Corral Fire outside the Hoopa Valley and Willow Creek burned entirely within the Trinity Alps Wilderness.  The fire reached over 12,000 acres and burned for nearly two months. Approximately 21 miles of bulldozer line was constructed and approximately 18 miles of hand fire line was constructed.

Trinity Alps Wilderness

Corral Fire in Trinity Alps Wilderness

 

Corral fire with Megram Fire of 1999 in background

Corral Fire with Megram Fire of 1999 in background

 

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Mosaic burn patterns

 

Mosaic burn patterns

Mosaic burn patterns

 

Corral Fire lines

Corral Fire lines

 

Bulldozed fire line

Bulldozed fire line

The Dance, Butler and Salmon Fires were all intentionally set. There is a $20 000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for starting the Salmon River Complex and Butler Fires. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Arson Tip Line at 1-800-842-4408.


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.

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