Caltrans has released its draft environmental impact statement/environmental impact report for the Last Chance Grade Project. The good news: Caltrans has already eliminated the highest-risk alternatives and has taken great pains to reduce avoidable impacts to the environment. The bad news: No matter which alternative is selected, there are going to be stark impacts to the environment. As EPIC engages with this project, we have two goals: Continue to work to reduce impacts to the maximum extent possible and, only after that, work to mitigate and compensate for what cannot be avoided.
Where is Last Chance Grade?
Last Chance Grade is a 3-mile stretch of Highway 101 about ten miles south of Crescent City that sits precariously above the Pacific Ocean. Built on an active landslide, the road has steadily slipped towards the Pacific Ocean. Most recently, landslides have resulted in the temporary closure of the road and significant delays as Caltrans works day and night to safely repair damages and to keep the road safe. When Last Chance Grade closes, there is no way around the area, as this is the only road. Highway 101 is a vital lifeline to the region and the ongoing impacts of this pattern—of regular landslides and land closures, patched together with stop-gap fixes—is far from ideal. Instead of extending this period into perpetuity, Caltrans wants to figure out a more permanent solution.
What is being proposed?
Caltrans is considering three alternatives: (1) The “no action” alternative, which would prolong the current attempts to patch together the road through one-off fixes; (2) Reengineering of the existing road (Alternative X), with new dewatering wells to reduce landsliding and completely reengineered retaining walls and other structures; (3) A tunnel that runs behind the active landslide area (Alternative F).
The alternatives each have their advantages and disadvantages. Alternative X would result in the fewest number of large, old trees lost to the project (21 trees above four feet DBH versus 40 large trees for Alternative F). X would also result in less earthwork and excavated material than Alternative F (270,000 cubic yards compared to 1,100,000). Alternative X is estimated to cost $880 million. Alternative F, by contrast, is projected to have more predictable and reliable maintenance costs, although is estimated to cost $2.1 billion.
What does EPIC think?
Both alternatives would result in the loss of mature and old-growth trees. That loss cannot be understated, as there is no way to replace the loss of old-growth. In moving forward, EPIC has two objectives: Continue to reduce impacts to the maximum extent possible and, after that, work towards effective mitigation of those impacts.
How were the alternatives developed?
Caltrans has been working towards a permanent solution for Last Chance Grade for approximately a decade. Congressman Jared Huffman helped to convene a “stakeholder group,” which includes EPIC, which has actively followed and engaged with Caltrans as they have considered various options. To Caltrans’ credit, the agency appears to have learned a valuable lesson from Richardson Grove and 197/199 and has been very open and transparent in the development of this project.
How can I review the documents?
All documents are available at lastchancegrade.com.
Want to learn more?
Listen to Caltrans’ Jaime Matteoli discuss the project with EPIC’s Tom Wheeler on the KMUD Environment Show from January 9, 2024.