Proposed Caltrans Roadwork Places Old-Growth Redwood At Risk

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Monday, July 20th, 2020

The HUM-36 Three Bridges Project would rebuild two bridges and widen a third bridge along Highway 36 in Humboldt County to provide better bridge rails and wider shoulders on the bridge. Because of impacts to old-growth redwoods, EPIC urges Caltrans to modify the project slightly: to the “Two Bridges Project,” not three. One bridge in particular, a proposed rebuild of a bridge over Hely Creek at Van Duzen County Park, would impact a half-acre of forest, including the removal of an old-growth redwood that measures six feet in diameter, the removal of several other large trees, and impacts to the root systems and pruning of other old-growth redwoods. All bridge projects have the potential to “take” protected salmonids through adverse habitat modification and direct mortality from construction.

The new Hely Creek bridge is designed to be both longer and wider. To conform to Caltrans’ design criteria, particularly curve radii for large trucks, the centerline of the new bridge would need to shift to the north, requiring realignment and widening of the roadway approaches to the bridge. Caltrans deviates from its standard design criteria frequently, and does so in places in this project, so a strict-adherence to design manuals is not always best. Projects present competing values which must be balanced. Here, we would like to see more emphasis placed on retaining the big, large trees of the Van Duzen. Given that the current bridge appears structurally sound and that it performs well as-built, we question the need to replace this bridge at this time. In our view, the public is best served by a slightly reduced project that focuses efforts on the bridges over Butte and Little Larabee Creeks.

Caltrans has expressed an interest in working with the environmental community to reduce impacts from this project. We hope that this interest is sincere. We would love to avoid another knock-down drag-out fight à la Richardson Grove and, as we express above, a compromise seems reasonable.

For more on the project, please check out the Initial Study prepared for the project, which you can access here. If you have any comments on the project, please send them to [email protected] by August 3rd.