Lawsuits Challenge Highway-Widening Through Ancient Redwoods

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Posted: Tuesday, November 7, 2017 6:23 pm | Updated: 1:25 pm, Wed Nov 8, 2017.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Environmental groups and local residents again sued the California Department of Transportation for approving a highway-widening project that would needlessly damage or destroy thousand-year-old redwood trees in California’s iconic Richardson Grove State Park along Highway 101 in Humboldt County.

This is the fifth legal challenge to Caltrans’ approval of the controversial "Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project." The project would damage the roots of more than 100 of Richardson Grove’s ancient redwoods, including trees up to 3,000 years old, 18' in diameter and 300' tall. Caltrans has pursued this project solely to incrementally improve passage for oversized commercial trucks, and continues to rely on inadequate environmental review.

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

The lawsuit was filed yesterday filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California 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 quietly reapproved the project in May 2017. Caltrans claims it has made significant changes but still intends to cut into tree roots, a procedure that would threaten the stability and viability of old-growth redwoods. The conservation groups also filed suit challenging the new approval in state court in June.

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. However, 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 of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP; Stuart Gross of Gross & Klein LLP; and Sharon Duggan, a staff attorney with EPIC and a long-time expert on environmental law.

SOURCE: Center for Biological Diversity

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