For the second time in the past year, a coalition of environmental groups has won a significant legal victory against Caltrans. Yesterday, US District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco denied certain elements of the plaintiffs' claims, but ordered the state transportation agency to redo aspects of its environmental impact report for a proposed project to expand a section of Route 101 in Humboldt County in an old-growth redwood forest.
Caltrans hopes to widen and realign a 1.1-mile section of the highway through Richardson Grove State Park in order to allow extra-long big-rigs to travel the route. Currently, due to the two-lane highway’s tight curves, the larger trucks must offload their cargo to smaller ones, making ground transportation through the region more expensive. According to CalTrans, this is the only stretch of Route 101 restricting access by larger trucks into Humboldt County from the south.
However, Alsup ruled that the agency failed to properly account for impacts on the nearly 2,000 ancient redwoods adjacent to the highway that would be impacted by the project, both from construction work and from root damage. Caltrans must now prepare a detailed analysis that considers the potential harm to the roots of each individual tree in the project’s path.
A coalition of environmental groups and community members first filed suit in 2010 to halt the project, and last July Alsup prohibited Caltrans from proceeding until a decision was made regarding its environmental impact report. The plaintiffs represented in the case include Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, and five individuals.
“Less than 3 percent of our ancient redwood trees remain, yet Caltrans wants to cut through, injure and pave over the roots of giant redwoods in a state park for the sake of a few more oversized trucks speeding through the grove, and expects us to believe there won’t be any damage,” said Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “We’ll keep fighting until Caltrans drops this misguided project.”
Caltrans spokesman Scott Burger said that Caltrans intends to fully comply with the court's order, but does not yet have a estimate of how long that will take.