Ken Miller, Secretary, Siskiyou Land Conservancy
Greg King, Executive Director, Siskiyou Land Conservancy
On Tuesday, Dec. 15, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will consider our County’s official position on realigning the road through Richardson Grove State Park (RGSP). This CalTrans project would create, for the first time ever, a North-South route for giant Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) trucks, coinciding with another major realignment on Highway 199, along the Wild and Scenic Smith River. Together they would create a new circuit linking Interstate 5, Highway 299 to Redding, Highway 101 north and south, and 199 to Grants Pass.
More, larger, self-contained trucks would pass through and by Humboldt, generating unsafe road conditions, pollution, noise, vibration, accidents, and road damage, affecting multiple communities and the environment, 24/7. Not incidentally, the added truck traffic would foster new development all along the Highway 101corridor.
As development follows this newly accessed route, so will traffic, causing a cascade of inter-related and unevaluated impacts, including sprawl in heretofore “under-developed” areas from Sonoma north to Oregon.
Federal Judge William Alsup, in ruling against the agency’s project for Richardson Grove, noted that “it is impossible to conclude that … there will be no appreciable increase in traffic. …” And, “By definition, the project will increase the number of STAA heavies, since that’s the whole point.”
In order to circumvent unlawful growth induction, CalTrans has evaded these calculations, deluding us to believe that all the trucks are just coming here. But this project amounts to traffic and growth induction on steroids. Opening the North-South corridor for the first time ever is like opening the NW Passage, or the Panama Canal.
The Board of Supervisors must represent all of our interests, not just those of the long-haul truckers and developers, to keep Humboldt County beautiful and livable. A rejection of the project is especially important due to a recent federal Appellate decision that overturned Judge Alsup’s lower court opinion that STAA truck traffic would increase, impacting not just Richardson Grove, but by extension, everything outside the Park.
In overturning J. Alsup’s decision, the Appellate Court has relied on a costly “experiment,” vividly described by the Appellate Judge Wardlaw: “…the road or highway construction that Caltrans has proposed here seems likely to provide new data on the effects of construction on old-growth redwoods. Given that much of the scientific evidence in the record is non-quantitative and dated, I would expect that such data would prove important to future decisions surrounding these historic trees,…”
CalTrans could have introduced objective evidence, such as that produced by Colin Fiske, of the local Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities, who found that traffic increased with through access compared to STAA “dead-ends.” (https://transportationpriorities.org).
But CalTrans’ strategy has always been to restrict the evaluation of impacts from this entire Project to the root zone of a few redwood trees under a short segment of pavement within Richardson Grove. If the STAA traffic were shown to increase, then all the massive and un-mitigable impacts in and out of the Grove on multiple communities would have to be publicly considered.
This project’s 24/7 traffic impacts would be felt far and wide, including most communities in Humboldt, with bottlenecks of huge trucks in Eureka leading to calls for re-routing 101 around Eureka.
The sensitive and shallow roots of the giant trees in Richardson Grove’s old-growth redwood ecosystem, and the quality of the visitors’ experience in close proximity to the road, would be significantly degraded by increased truck traffic.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Big Lagoon, Prairie Creek, Del Norte Coast Redwoods, and Jedediah Smith are all in the path of these trucks, as is Last Chance Grade, which is crumbling under the current weight of ordinary traffic.
In other words, imagine you’re driving on I-5, surrounded by hundreds of giant trucks, and now picture those trucks passing through Humboldt County 24/7. The peace and rural character of our communities would be forever obliterated.
Since this Project was conceived thirteen years ago, our transportation needs have been well served by new STAA access via highway 299, and 101 north.
Without a full, objective and current evaluation of the effects of the Project on STAA regional and interstate through- traffic, support of this Project is untenable.
Reflecting the broad opposition in our communities, Supervisors should oppose this Project, rather than side with those few who would profit from it. We have too much to lose. There are too many other priority projects needing funding, and too many advances in transportation technology to risk so much harm from an anachronistic project conceived so long ago.