EPIC is back in court to defend the ancient redwoods against Caltran’s ill-conceived plan to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. The lawsuit, filed on Friday, June 23, in Humboldt County Superior Court, challenges the transportation agency’s latest approval of the controversial project. Three previous legal challenges blocked construction and forced Caltrans to rescind all project approvals in 2014. Caltrans quietly reapproved the project last month, purportedly to improve highway access for oversized commercial trucks.
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 and is a jewel of the state park system. The park also contains essential habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the northern spotted owl, and its creeks support runs of imperiled salmon and steelhead.
The “Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project” would cut into and pave over the roots of more than 100 of Richardson Grove’s ancient redwoods, including trees over 1,000 years old and up to 18 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall. Caltrans has pursued this project solely to benefit passage for oversized commercial trucks.
“Ancient redwood trees are an irreplaceable treasure, taking hundreds of years of growth to achieve their awe-inspiring size,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director at EPIC. “You better have a darn good reason to deliberately harm these ancient giants. Caltrans doesn’t.”
Caltrans states that the road widening is necessary to allow large overlength trucks through the grove. But certain overlength trucks—moving vans and cattle trucks—are already permitted to go through the grove. A 2010 study by the California Highway Patrol that found that overlength trucks already make it through without compromising safety.
Caltrans has also refused to consider other alternatives that do not require the cutting of ancient redwood roots, such as a stoplight, a signal system, or only permitting truck traffic at low use periods of the day, such as at night.
“It is irresponsible for Caltrans to continue to waste taxpayer money on this project when the stakes are so high and the need is so low,” concluded Wheeler.
Also joining EPIC in court are fellow conservation groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, and the Friends of Del Norte, as well as longtime local residents Bess Bair, Trisha Lee Lotus, Jeffrey Hedin, and David Spreen. The suit challenges Caltrans’ violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, and inadequate evaluation of environmental impacts, a misleading conclusion that the project would have no significant impact on the environment, and a flawed determination that none of the proposed highway alterations would threaten the stability of any old-growth redwoods.