Second Lawsuit Filed to Safeguard California Old-Growth Redwoods

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 1, 2010 (ENS) – The California Department of Transportation is again being sued to stop a major construction project along Highway 101 that environmental groups and individuals claim will destroy and damage old-growth redwoods in a state park to allow access for large commercial trucks.

On Monday, three environmental advocacy organizations and five California residents filed a second lawsuit against Caltrans for its planned project to widen the road through Richardson Grove State Park in Humboldt County. The first lawsuit was filed in state court, this one makes a federal case out of the road-widening project.

Established in 1922, Richardson Grove State Park was recently rated as one of the top 100 state parks in the United States. The park attracts thousands of visitors from around the world every year to explore one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwoods.

In this lawsuit filed in federal court, the plaintiffs claim Caltrans failed to conduct a thorough environmental review of the project, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

 

“We can see no other option than to seek help from the courts to protect this threatened grove,” said Kerul Dyer, Richardson Grove Campaign coordinator for the Environmental Protection Information Center, a grassroots group in Redway, California.

“Caltrans not only failed to evaluate the harm this complex project would cause to these ancient trees, they railroaded this multi-million-dollar project through, disregarding the public’s concerns and grossly understating the impacts the project would have,” Dyer said.

A lawsuit was filed under state law in June accusing Caltrans of violations of the California Environmental Quality Act. A “finding of no significant impact” that Caltrans published in May contradicts the agency’s own conclusions that the project is likely to harm or destroy ancient redwoods in the grove, the plaintiffs argue.

The newly filed federal complaint details numerous violations of federal law due to inadequate environmental review for the project; it also cites Caltrans’ own findings that the project would cause harm to old-growth trees.

Caltrans contends that it is making only “minor adjustments” to Route 101 in Southern Humboldt County, to allow access of industry-standard sized trucks through Richardson Grove. The large trucks are currently prohibited north of Leggett.

Route 101 is the primary north-south route serving the north coast of California and is critical to the commerce of the region, Caltrans maintains. Route 101 through Richardson Grove is a narrow two-lane road with large old growth redwood trees adjacent to the traveled way and is one of the few remaining areas of the state in which these trucks are not permitted.

Approvals for the project have been obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and the California Office of Historic Preservation.

Caltrans said in a May 20 statement, “No old growth trees will be removed for this project.”

The state agency says that in response to public comments since the release of the draft environmental document, Caltrans has worked to reduce the number of trees that need to be removed by more than a third, from 89 to 54. The largest redwood tree that needs to be removed within Richardson Grove State Park measures seven inches in diameter.

But the plaintiff groups argue that the project would harm and destroy ancient and irreplaceable redwoods in the grove by cutting their roots or compacting surrounding soil and paving over the roots.

The work will affect at least 72 old-growth trees, the plaintiffs say, and Caltrans acknowledges that “adverse effects to old-growth trees may be a significant impact to this unique natural community.”

“We are determined not to let this protected grove of old-growth redwoods and the endangered species that depend on them be cut into for the sake of letting a few more oversized trucks speed through the grove,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Caltrans should scrap this misguided project, which has been opposed by dozens of groups, local business owners, scientists, elected representatives and tens of thousands of concerned citizens.”

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

Bess Bair, lead plaintiff on the federal lawsuit, was born and raised in Humboldt County near Richardson Grove. Bair is the granddaughter of Bess and Fred Hartsook, originators of the historic Hartsook Inn, near the Richardson Grove.

Bair says she joined the lawsuit to carry on her century-long family legacy of protecting the majestic giant redwoods from harm. “I know these trees intimately, I was raised among them,” she said. “There are ways to resolve this situation that do not put these trees at risk and preserve them for all Californians.”

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