For Immediate Release, May 20, 2010
||Kerul Dyer, Environmental Protection Information Center, (707) 834-3358
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Caltrans Releases Final Environmental Review for Highway Project
That Will Degrade Ancient Humboldt County Redwood Grove
Conservation Groups Vow Legal Challenge, Seek 100,000 Letters of Opposition
GARBERVILLE, Calif.— The California Department of Transportation today released the final Environmental Impact Report for a controversial highway-widening project that threatens to degrade the ancient redwood grove at Richardson Grove State Park and could change the rural character of Humboldt County. The Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity today vowed an all-out legal challenge of the project, and are seeking to have state and federal legislators pressure Caltrans to rescind the project.
“This is a statewide issue and anyone who cares about the redwoods, the integrity of our state parks, and the rural charm of Humboldt County should weigh in to overturn this project,” said Kerul Dyer, Richardson Grove campaign coordinator for the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The final environmental report is disappointing and misleading, and despite a torrent of critical public comment, Caltrans has not budged from its insistence on this disastrous project.”
“Caltrans is hell-bent on a misguided project that not only threatens the fragile root systems of Richardson Grove's ancient redwoods but also opens the rest of Humboldt County to sprawling big-box development,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Caltrans needs to take a hard U-turn on this project or it will end up in court.”
The conservation groups are launching an action campaign to save Richardson Grove, seeking to get 100,000 comments and letters sent to Caltrans, federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and federal and state elected officials. The project is widely opposed by local residents, business owners, conservation and Native American groups, and economists as unnecessary and damaging to the state park, the venerable old-growth grove and its wildlife, tourism, and the coastal communities of Humboldt County.
Caltrans and certain business interests have attempted for decades to provide access for larger commercial trucks through the area, and in the past few years have pushed for widening the narrow, meandering section of Highway 101 through the world-renowned ancient redwood grove in Richardson Grove State Park. This park at the southern entrance to Humboldt County is considered to be the “redwood curtain” protecting the small communities of the north coast from blight and urban development. Public outcry has so far protected the grove from development, but Caltrans and a handful of business interests have aggressively pushed for access for larger trucks. The final environmental impact report for the project is available at http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1projects/richardson_grove/.
Background on the Park and the Project
Established in 1922, Richardson Grove State Park was recently rated as one of the top 100 state parks in the United States, and it attracts thousands of visitors from around the world every year to explore one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwoods. It is here one first encounters significant old-growth forest when driving north, and this popular tourist destination has provided many people with a transformative experience walking through a grove of some of the oldest living beings on the planet.
The proposed spoiling of Richardson Grove and widening of the highway through the “Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project” does not serve the region’s best interests and threatens the area’s environment, economy, and way of life. The Humboldt County Economic Development Program has used public funding for a misleading public-relations campaign claiming the widening and increased large-truck traffic are needed for safety and commerce and will benefit Humboldt County through falling retail prices, bolstering the local economy, and making travel into the county from the south safer. Bigger trucks do not somehow translate to consumer savings, but they do increase wear and tear on roadways and decrease safety for smaller vehicles. The widening would provide incentive for big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot to move into Humboldt County, to the detriment of local businesses. The reality is that this project has the potential to change forever a rural lifestyle cherished by residents of the North Coast.
Caltrans claims the “realignment” project is needed to safely accommodate large-truck travel, remove the restriction of larger vehicles on this section of highway, and improve movement of commercial goods. However, it appears from Caltrans’ own statements and signage that the portion of road for which this project is contemplated is currently designated for larger trucks and that Caltrans has exaggerated potential safety problems. The project was never identified as essential or a priority project in the numerous planning documents most relevant to statewide transportation by the California Transportation Commission, or even Caltrans; those documents include The 2006 Corridor Management Plan for Route 101: Golden Gate-Oregon Border, the 2006 and 2008 State Transportation Improvement Program documents, and the 2008 Interregional Transportation Improvement System documents. Caltrans has not established that this project is necessary for safety or for goods movement and the economy.
Advocates for the grove forced the agency to complete a full environmental impact report, rather than the categorical exemption and minimal environmental analysis Caltrans originally tried to employ. Caltrans’ preferred project appears to be a predetermined decision taken in advance of the environmental analysis. Federal law prohibits transportation projects on public-park lands except in cases where there is no feasible alternative. Since smaller-sized commercial trucks already travel through the grove to deliver goods to Humboldt County, one feasible alternative would be to leave the highway as it is and retain the integrity of Richardson Grove.
The project is opposed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Save Richardson Grove Coalition, the North Coast Environmental Center, the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, Friends of the Eel River, the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters, and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, among others.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org
The Environmental Protection Information Center works to protect and restore ancient forests, watersheds, coastal estuaries, and native species in Northern California. www.wildcalifornia.org