Posts Tagged ‘Smith River’

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

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
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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


Smith River Threatened by Strip Mining

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014
By

Smith-River

Update9/29/14: Based upon its findings and comments received, the Oregon Department of Water Resources “finds that with the data available there is no basis for appropriate conditions that can be applied to mitigate likely impacts to water quality and sensitive, threatened, and endangered species.” Read the full Final Order to Deny Red Flat Nickel Mine here: Final Order to Deny Red Flat Nickel Mine

Take Action! The Wild & Scenic North Fork Smith River is being targeted for a large nickel mine that would devastate the area for recreation, pollute public drinking water in California, damage critical habitat for the federally threatened coho salmon and other fisheries, and destroy the purest waters in the West.

Red Flat Nickel Corporation, a foreign-owned mining company, has submitted plans to the Rogue-Siskiyou National Forest to conduct exploratory drilling in the Baldface Creek/North Fork Smith River watershed. The company has also applied to Oregon Water Resources Department for a five-year limited license (LL-1533) to extract thousands of gallons of public waters from tributary streams of the North Fork Smith River.

In the plans, Red Flat Nickel Corporation has proposed flying equipment and personnel into the mining site by helicopter to drill 59 three-inch-diameter core samples 50 feet into the ground. The proposed mining site is 3,980 acres of federal mining claims, which are also in the watershed of the Wild & Scenic North Fork Smith River and the Inventoried South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in Curry County, Oregon.

The information gathered from this exploration will be used to advance mine development of the area. The EPA says the threat of metal mining is the largest toxic polluter in the United States. If one mine starts operating, thousands of acres of other nickel claims could be developed on nearby federal public lands—impacting designated and eligible Wild & Scenic Rivers, and turning one of North America’s most important rare plant centers, imperative habitat for fisheries, and clean water supplies into an industrial wasteland.

A foreign corporation should not be allowed to pollute and despoil the public waters and land resources relied on by local citizens, fisheries, and our ecosytems. Help protect the Wild & Scenic Smith River from devastating foreign strip mining exploration.

This article was composed by Taylor Morrison, an intern with EPIC for the 2014 summer. Thank you to the Kalmiopsis Coalition and the Smith River Alliance for contributing content for this action alert.


Off Road Vehicles Proposed by Forest Service in the Smith River National Recreation Area

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
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Smith River NRAEPIC, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center and other conservation allies submitted comments regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Smith River National Recreation Area (NRA) Restoration and Motorized Travel Management on June 9th, supporting a travel management decision that protects the outstanding natural values found in the Smith River NRA by reducing road maintenance costs, protecting and restoring aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and reducing the spread of Port Orford cedar root disease through road and route decommissioning.

The Forest Service needs to refrain from adding routes and motorized trails to the road system that occur within occupied sensitive plant habitat as well as fully analyze and disclose the impacts of foreseeable illegal off-road use. In addition, the Forest Service must disclose the actual efficacy of agency road gating, blocking, and closure mechanisms. Furthermore, the final travel management decision must contain meaningful and substantive protections for Port Orford cedar populations across the planning area.

The DEIS for the Smith River NRA Restoration and Motorized Travel Management was released to the public on April 11, 2014. The aim of the project is to make changes to the National Forest Transportation System (NFTS) and Motorized Vehicle Use Maps , including adding, upgrading, downgrading, and decommissioning roads to provide for recreation opportunities, administrative needs, and to reduce risk.

In the Smith River NRA DEIS, six alternatives were identified. The Forest Service prefers Alternative 6. Unfortunately, Alternative 6 is primarily based upon the preferences of a collaborative group whose stated purpose was to determine how to add “high risk” controversial user-created routes to the Smith River NRA NFTS. These “high risk” routes provide no administrative or recreational purpose other than to fulfill the desire to engage in extreme off-road travel. In addition, the preferred alternative would add routes and motorized trails to the NFTS that occur within occupied sensitive plant habitat. It is undeniable that the existing network of roads and routes within the NRA are major causes of chronic sedimentation problems in streams, cause damage to rare and endemic plant populations, contribute to the loss of roadless wildland recreational opportunities, and increase the spread of Phytophthora lateralis (plant pathogen that causes Port Orford cedar root disease). Although the Forest Service acknowledges these problems, it plans to monitor less than 1 in 5 of these “high risk” routes over the next 10 years if funding is even available.

Under the Smith River National Recreation Act, the Forest Service has a responsibility to preserve, protect, and enhance the unique biological diversity of the NRA. EPIC and its supporters feel that the Forest Service’s preferred alternative, which favors the interests of 1.1% of the Six Rivers Forest visitors, does not adequately protect the significant ecological, recreational, and hydrological values the Smith River NRA is charged with protecting. EPIC and its allies  hope that the preferred action is not pre-ordained and that its substantive, technical, and site-specific comments are adequately acknowledged and addressed.

This article was written by Jason Landers, an intern with EPIC for the 2014 summer.

Click here to read the full comments.


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.