Caltrans recently held a series of public workshops seeking input from the public as the agency considers possible alternatives and reroutes in an attempt to find a long-term solution for the Last Chance Grade — a stretch of U.S. Highway 101 about ten miles south of Crescent City, which sits precariously high above the Pacific Ocean and experiences frequent landslides due to the geological instability of the area.
The road-building agency is currently examining a number of preliminary alternatives that would reroute Highway 101 to the east through Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and private timberland. The reroutes would impact old-growth, mature and young redwood forests, coastal spruce forests and Mill Creek, which provides the best spawning habitat for the federally endangered Coho salmon in the Smith River basin . The price tag for these projects run between $200 million to over $1 billion.
There is little question among the staff at EPIC that the project has a legitimate need: to maintain motorist safety and to connectivity of the major highway between Oregon and California; but we believe that all viable options for avoiding impacts to our natural resources must be thoroughly studied, and these studies must be made available to the public, before the project proceeds.
Specifically, studies regarding the feasibility of using the existing right of way for the project – through more permanent stabilization efforts than are currently taking place, use of a viaduct, or other measures – must be conducted and made available to the public. Despite what Caltrans officials said at the public meetings, EPIC does not consider this to be a “no action” alternative. Instead, we would like to see the feasibility of taking action within or near the existing roadway first. If a study concludes that this is infeasible, Caltrans should select an alternative that avoids impacts to old-growth redwoods to the greatest extent possible. For impacts that are truly unavoidable, Caltrans should implement mitigation that enhances old growth redwood and salmon habitat values. EPIC supports keeping the project as a 2-lane, 55mph road.
As this project unfolds, EPIC will continue to advocate for full public transparency and protection of old-growth redwood forest and salmon habitat values.