Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 28, 2018

Contact: Peter Galvin, (707) 986-2600,

Court Hears Arguments to Stop Destructive Highway-widening Project Through Ancient California Redwoods

SAN FRANCISCO— Conservation groups and Humboldt residents appeared in federal court today for a hearing on a legal challenge to Caltrans’ controversial “Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project.” The project would needlessly damage and harm ancient redwood trees in California’s iconic Richardson Grove State Park along Highway 101 in Humboldt County.

The highway-widening project would damage the roots of more than 100 of Richardson Grove’s ancient redwoods, including trees up to 3,000 years old, 18 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall. Caltrans has pursued this project solely to incrementally improve passage for oversized commercial trucks, and continues to rely on inadequate environmental review.

“These are some of California’s oldest and most iconic trees. It’s ridiculous that Caltrans continues to push a plan to hack into them just to accommodate a few more huge trucks,” said Peter Galvin with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The redwoods of Richardson Grove have survived for thousands of years, and we’ll continue fighting to keep these ancient trees intact.”

At today’s hearing before Judge William Alsup in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the plaintiffs and Caltrans presented motions for summary judgment, with each side arguing that its case should prevail as a matter of fact and law without going to trial. The motions are under submission and a court ruling is forthcoming.

Litigation against the Caltrans project in Richardson Grove has been pursued in both state and federal court. In 2012 the federal court issued a temporary injunction stopping the project, citing numerous errors in Caltrans’ mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods and use of faulty data. The state court ruled in May 2018 against a Caltrans motion to dismiss the state lawsuit.

The federal lawsuit challenges Caltrans’ violations of the National Environmental Policy Act due to inadequate evaluation of the environmental impacts of cutting into tree roots. The suit also alleges violations of the Transportation Act, which requires highway projects with federal funding to minimize harm to natural resources in state parks.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Friends of Del Norte, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, and longtime local residents Bess Bair, Trisha Lee Lotus, Jeffrey Hedin and David Spreen.

Previous legal challenges had blocked construction and forced Caltrans to rescind all project approvals in 2014. The agency reapproved the project in 2017, claiming it had made significant changes. However, Caltrans still intends to cut into tree roots, threatening the stability and viability of old-growth redwoods. The conservation groups also filed suit in state court challenging the new project approval.

Richardson Grove State Park, where tourists often first encounter large redwoods when heading north on Highway 101, is home to one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwood trees in the world. The park has essential habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the northern spotted owl, and its creeks support runs of imperiled salmon and steelhead trout.

Caltrans first proposed the project in 2007, claiming the widening is needed to accommodate large-truck travel. But Highway 101 through Richardson Grove is already designated for larger trucks and does not have significant safety problems. The agency cannot demonstrate that the project is necessary for safety or would benefit the local economy.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs in this suit are Philip Gregory; Stuart Gross of Gross & Klein LLP; and Sharon Duggan, a staff attorney with EPIC and a long-time expert on environmental law.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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