Posts Tagged ‘Wild and Scenic’

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
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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.