For Immediate Release, June 17, 2010
||Kerul Dyer, Environmental Protection Information Center, (707) 834-3358
Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (707) 986-2600
Patricia Clary, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, (707) 445-5100 x205
Stuart Gross, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, (650) 697-6000
Suit Filed to Protect Ancient Redwoods From Caltrans Highway Project
SAN FRANCISCO— A coalition of conservation organizations and citizens filed a lawsuit today in San Francisco Superior Court to protect the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park in Humboldt County. The lawsuit challenges Caltrans’ approval of a controversial highway widening and realignment project. According to the lawsuit, Caltrans violated the California Environmental Quality Act in approving the project, which poses unacceptable risks to Richardson Grove State Park, its ancient redwoods, endangered species, and the rural region behind the fabled “redwood curtain.” The project involves cutting down numerous trees and threatens the survival of almost 100 more.
“Caltrans has not shown that this project will not harm our priceless park. We cannot risk damaging the old-growth redwoods which Richardson Grove State Park was created to protect,” said Kerul Dyer, Richardson Grove campaign coordinator for the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The project is dangerous to the grove and unnecessary since big trucks pass through the grove every day without incident.”
“Caltrans wants to cut through and pave over the life-giving roots of ancient redwoods in one of California’s most-loved state parks, yet expects us to believe there won’t be any damage,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The state’s failure to follow the law puts these old-growth trees and the endangered species that depend on them at unacceptable risk — all for the sake of letting a few more big trucks use this stretch of highway.”
The Environmental Impact Report prepared by Caltrans failed to acknowledge the full extent of the project’s impacts, as required by state law, including the effects of cutting through and paving over the widespread but shallow network of roots holding Richardson Grove together, the consequences of stockpiling lead-contaminated soil in an area draining to the designated “wild and scenic” South Fork Eel River, and the far-reaching impacts of opening the road to larger trucks. Caltrans also failed to adopt legally required measures to reduce these impacts and failed to consider less-damaging alternatives.
Joining EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Trisha Lotus, Jeffrey Hedin and Bruce Edwards. Trisha Lotus is the great granddaughter of Henry Devoy, who in 1922 transferred to California the initial redwood forest that became Richardson Grove State Park. Jeffrey Hedin is a disabled Vietnam veteran with the Piercy Fire Protection District and a volunteer responder to emergencies in Mendocino and Humboldt counties. Bruce Edwards is a licensed contractor who travels the highway in both directions on a daily basis for his work.
The lawsuit was prepared and filed with the pro bono assistance of Philip Gregory, former Congressman Pete McCloskey and Stuart Gross, attorneys at the renowned litigation firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. The firm’s high-caliber legal work and dedication to socially just causes have won it statewide and national recognition. Sharon Duggan, an expert on environmental law with an emphasis on forestry regulation, also assisted in the preparation of the lawsuit.
According to Pete McCloskey: “This case is about Caltrans ignoring the science and the will of the people of California in favor of the interests of large trucking companies. Caltrans obviously cares more about trucks than trees. That’s not how most Californians see things, and we are honored to represent these organizations and individuals in their fight against this unnecessary and destructive project.”
Established in 1922, Richardson Grove State Park was recently rated as one of the top 100 state parks in the United States. The park 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 that drivers first encounter significant old-growth forest when heading north on Highway 101, and this popular tourist destination has provided many people with a transformative experience walking through some of the oldest living beings on the planet. The park also provides essential habitat for threatened and endangered species like the marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl, and its creeks still support runs of imperiled salmon and steelhead.
Caltrans first proposed the project in 2007 with minimal environmental and public review. Faced with immediate and widespread community opposition, the agency prepared a full Environmental Impact Report but has still has not shown that its experimental, unproven construction methods will not irreparably harm Richardson Grove. 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. More than 25,000 concerned citizens have sent faxes and e-mails to Caltrans officials and elected representatives over the past several months urging denial of the project.
The proposed widening of Highway 101 through Richardson Grove does not serve the region’s best interests and threatens the area’s environment. Caltrans claims this “realignment” project is needed to legally accommodate large-truck travel on this section of highway. However, it appears from Caltrans’ own statements and signage 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 either for safety or for goods movement and the economy. Since smaller-sized commercial trucks already travel through the grove to deliver goods to Humboldt County, the best alternative would be to leave the highway as it is and retain the integrity of the grove.
The project is opposed by the Environmental Protection Information Center, Save Richardson Grove Coalition, North Coast Environmental Center, InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, Friends of the Eel River, Center for Biological Diversity, Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, among others.