Legal Challenge Filed to Halt Caltrans’ Richardson Grove Project

LEGAL

EUREKA, Calif.— Conservation groups and Humboldt residents filed a legal challenge this week to a fourth attempt by Caltrans to approve the controversial Richardson Grove Project.

The project would realign portions of Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park to facilitate oversized commercial truck traffic, risking damage to a grove of ancient redwoods that are up to 3,000 years old. To realign the road, Caltrans proposes cutting and paving over roots of adjacent old-growth redwood trees.

The challenge was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Friends of Del Norte, and several individual Humboldt residents with generational family ties to Richardson Grove.

“In its unrelenting pursuit of this unnecessary and fiscally foolish highway construction project, Caltrans has ignored its obligations to adequately evaluate the environmental impacts and is prepared to sacrifice the iconic Richardson Grove and desecrate our state park,” said Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We simply can’t and won’t let this beloved remnant of primeval forest be damaged.”

“Caltrans has pulled the same play from the playbook: Deny obvious impacts and push ahead,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “We are stuck in a Groundhog Day nightmare where the agency refuses to take accountability for its sloppy work.”

“The fact that Caltrans refutes as ‘non informative’ new scientific research on the effects of paving over the roots of redwood trees demonstrates the callous nature of their dogged approach to completing this needless project,” said Don Gillespie of the Friends of Del Norte. “Richardson Grove deserves better.”

The recent Caltrans approval of the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act, a state law that requires public agencies to evaluate and disclose the environmental impacts of a project and to limit or avoid those impacts to the extent feasible. Caltrans failed to prepare an environmental impact report for the project, did not consider or evaluate significant environmental impacts, did not adopt effective and enforceable mitigation measures, and failed to circulate a valid environmental review document for public review and comment. Each prior approval of this unnecessary road widening project has been halted by legal action and a state or federal court stop work order.

Since the project’s inception in 2007, new research published in 2021 has documented how cutting and paving over the roots of old-growth redwoods causes long-term harms to coast redwood forests. Researchers with the California Department of Forestry, Utah State University and Michigan Technological University found that road construction significantly harmed adjacent old-growth at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, causing growth suppression, elevated water stress and crown dieback of redwoods. This study and other evidence was submitted to Caltrans but the agency has denied that the research could better inform the project.

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

The plaintiffs are represented by the law firm Gross Klein PC. The CEQA case filed on March 7, 2023 is #CV2300375.

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