Groups Vow Legal Challenge Against Richardson Grove Project

Tall.RGsmallCalTrans Approves Project Through Richardson Grove State Park That Would Harm Old-growth Trees, Marbled Murrelet Habitat, and Rural North Coast Towns

GARBERVILLE, Calif.— The Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity today vowed an all out legal challenge against an ill-advised highway-widening project that not only threatens the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park, but could also change the rural character of Humboldt County. The California Department of Transportation filed official notice today that the project was approved, but the agency has not yet made its final Environmental Impact Report for the controversial project available to the public. The highway project is widely opposed by local residents, business owners, conservation and Native American groups, and economists as unnecessary and damaging to the state park, the venerable old-growth grove and its wildlife, tourism, and the coastal communities of Humboldt County.

“Anyone who cares about California’s redwoods and the rural charm of Humboldt County should weigh in to stop this disastrous project,” said Kerul Dyer Richardson Grove campaign coordinator for the Environmental Protection Information Center. “The old-growth redwood grove within the state park is supposed to be fully protected and not vulnerable to destructive projects like this one.”

“The project as proposed by Caltrans threatens to destroy old-growth redwood root systems and harm critical habitat for the endangered marbled murrelet,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re prepared to fight this and call on elected officials to pressure Caltrans to rescind its approval.”

Caltrans and certain business interests have attempted for decades to provide access for larger commercial trucks through the area, and in the past few years have pushed for widening the narrow, meandering section of Highway 101 through the world-renowned ancient redwood grove in Richardson Grove State Park. This park at the southern entrance to Humboldt County is considered to be the “redwood curtain” protecting the small communities of the north coast from blight and urban development. Public outcry has so far protected the grove from development, but Caltrans and a handful of business interests have aggressively pushed for access for larger trucks.

“Since time immemorial, the grove has held, and still holds, great cultural and spiritual significance for local indigenous tribal peoples, some of whom trace their ancestry to this place,” said Priscilla Hunter, chair of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, a coalition of 10 federally recognized Native American tribes that oppose the project.

The Environmental Protection Information Center works to protect and restore ancient forests, watersheds, coastal estuaries, and native species in Northern California.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places.


Background on the Park and the Project

Established in 1922, Richardson Grove State Park was recently rated as one of the top 100 state parks in the United States, and attracts thousands of visitors from around the world every year to explore one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwoods. It is here you first encounter significant old-growth forest when driving north, and this popular tourist destination has provided many people with a transformative experience walking through some of the oldest living beings on the planet.

The proposed spoiling of Richardson Grove and widening of the highway through the “Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project” does not serve the region’s best interests and threatens the area’s environment, economy, and way of life. The Humboldt County Economic Development Program has used public funding for a misleading public-relations campaign claiming the widening and increased large-truck traffic are needed for safety and commerce and will benefit Humboldt County through falling retail prices, bolstering the local economy, and making travel into the county from the south safer. Bigger trucks do not somehow translate to consumer savings, but do increase wear and tear on roadways and decrease safety for smaller vehicles. The widening would provide incentive for big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot to move into Humboldt County, to the detriment of local businesses. The reality is that this project has the potential to change forever a rural lifestyle cherished by residents of the North Coast.

Caltrans claims the “realignment” project is needed to safely accommodate large-truck travel, remove the restriction of larger vehicles on this section of highway, and improve movement of commercial goods. However, it appears from Caltrans’ own statements and signage that the portion of road for which this project is contemplated is currently designated for larger trucks and that Caltrans has exaggerated potential safety problems. The project was never identified as essential or a priority project in the numerous planning documents most relevant to statewide transportation by the California Transportation Commission or even Caltrans – such as the 2006 Corridor Management Plan for Route 101: Golden Gate-Oregon Border, the 2006 and 2008 State Transportation Improvement Program documents, or 2008 Interegional Transportation Improvement System documents. Caltrans has not established that this project is necessary for safety or for goods movement and the economy.

Advocates for the grove forced the agency to complete a full Environmental Impact Report, rather than the Categorical Exemption and minimal environmental analysis Caltrans originally tried to employ. Caltrans’ preferred project appears to be a predetermined decision taken in advance of the environmental analysis. Federal law prohibits transportation projects on public-park lands except in cases where there is no feasible alternative. Since smaller-sized commercial trucks already travel through the grove to deliver goods to Humboldt County, one feasible alternative would be to leave the highway as it is and retain the integrity of Richardson Grove.

The project is opposed by the Environmental Protection Information Center, Save Richardson Grove Coalition, North Coast Environmental Center, InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, Friends of the Eel River, Center for Biological Diversity, Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters, and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, among others.

Additional Quotes

William Cullen Bryant, as quoted in the brochure for Richardson Grove State Park: “The groves were God’s first temples.”

“Caltrans has released a deeply flawed environmental analysis of the project’s impacts,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “They have not fully disclosed the damage the project would do to scores of protected ancient redwoods up to 15 feet in diameter and the ecology of the grove, nor have they addressed other environmental and cultural ramifications.”

“We shouldn’t sacrifice Richardson Grove, a publicly owned recreational and biological jewel, so that a few companies dependent on antiquated business plans can increase profits,” said Kerul Dyer, Richardson Grove campaign coordinator for the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Why should the public take the risk of damaging this ancient forest for the benefit of a few companies? It is critical that people from across California speak up now, to protect this natural public resource for future generations. With 97 percent of the old growth gone, we cannot afford to risk losing the remaining groves for any reason, much less an ill-conceived construction project.”

“This project is going to close me down for the entire duration of the construction, and after two bad economic years, it’s hard to face yet another,” said Dan Beleme, a local businessman who owns the tourist attraction One Log House near Garberville. “A lot of the local businesses here may not make it back at all. There are other options that are not even being explored and many other ways to solve the trucking issue without ruining the environment of the area.”

“The real beneficiaries of this project are the big trucking firms and franchise retailers that will be subsidized by the cost of this project,” said Barbara Kennedy, a retired attorney and community leader in the Save Richardson Grove Coalition. “The problem of fostering this type of development, which depends on distribution over great distances, was just highlighted by the grounding of airlines due to the volcanic ash, when produce and flowers grown in Africa and destined for European markets could not reach their destinations. Localization and sustainability in a changing world should be key to designing future transportation systems.”