An Early Look at “Last Chance Grade”

EPIC header logo“Last Chance Grade” is a stretch of Highway 101 about 10 miles south of Crescent City perched precariously above the Pacific Ocean. Built on an active landslide, the road has steadily slipped towards the Pacific Ocean. In many areas, the road is no longer in its original alignment, having slipped further down the slope—including one spot that has moved 40 feet horizontally and 30 feet vertically so far.

Map of resistance to closure of various road alternatives for Last Chance Grade.
Map of resistance to closure of various road alternatives for Last Chance Grade.

Caltrans is currently examining eight alternatives to the existing road. Caltrans is quick to admit that there are no good alternatives because of the difficult landscape. Some are long detours, others would re-armor the current road to fight against failure. Alternatives A1 and F would be tunnels under the problem area, but the high cost (up to two billion dollars) and difficulty to construct may doom these alternatives. Alternative A2 would go through a large patch of old-growth redwood forest. Alternatives C3-C5 are also in areas prone to sliding and may not be any better at staying open than the current route.

Alternatives X and L look the most promising. Alternative X, which would take drastic actions to stabilize the current alignment, is projected to have the lowest impacts to the environment. Alternative L, which would move the road slightly uphill (perhaps better positioning the road for the future), would likely have the next lowest impacts. These two alternatives are also the least expensive, which is important to ensure the project is completed in a timely fashion and we are not waiting around for some large congressional appropriation.

To further narrow their thinking, Caltrans has completed an “expert risk assessment,” where the agency has employed the help of geotechnical experts from across the West Coast to do an initial assessment of the various alternatives. The geotechnical analysis is only part of the consideration of values necessary to refine the alternatives. It doesn’t include consideration of environmental values, such as preservation of old-growth or sediment inputs to rivers. To refine the alternatives further, Caltrans will conduct a “value engineering analysis” that will require soliciting thoughts from stakeholders about their deeply held values.

Caltrans hopes to begin “scoping” under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by November 2018. NEPA and CEQA are the laws that require the agency to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the various alternatives. The project will still take many years to complete, with Caltrans searching for money from federal and state coffers. EPIC will keep our members informed as we learn more information.

David Gypsy Chain climbing a flagpole. Photo: Cindy Allsbrooks.
David Gypsy Chain climbing a flagpole. Photo: Cindy Allsbrooks.

Remembering David Nathan Gypsy Chain

Forest activists and supporters will gather on Sunday, September 16 to remember David Nathan “Gypsy” Chain, who lost his life twenty years ago while trying to prevent illegal logging in an Earth First! Action near Grizzly Creek in the Van Duzen River watershed. To mark the anniversary, community members have established the David Nathan
“Gypsy” Chain Memorial Scholarship, administered by the Humboldt Area Foundation. The fund will provide an annual scholarship of $1,000 for a student graduating from a local high school or attending Humboldt State University or College of the Redwoods who has demonstrated commitment to issues of forest ecology.

Julia Butterfly will be among the speakers at the memorial and fundraising event on Sunday, September 16 at the Historic Eagle House in Eureka. Doors open at 7 p.m. and the program begins at 8 p.m. Gypsy’s mother Cindy Alsbrooks will travel from Texas to participate. In addition to raising funds for the scholarship, the event will provide an opportunity for focus and reflection on changes in our community over the past twenty years.

What have we learned since the painful controversies over and in the forest in the 1990s? How have we grown as individuals and as a community? For those of us who knew Gypsy or knew of him, how did his death influence the course of our lives? The event also will honor author/activist Freeman House who died recently.

Co-organizer Naomi Steinberg comments, “We want to honor Gypsy, and also continue to educate the public about an important era in Humboldt County history and the ongoing story of the preservation and restoration of our magnificent but fragile redwood ecosystem.”

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