The court stated at the beginning of Monday’s decision:
”Caltrans is not going to cut down or otherwise remove any old-growth redwoods from Richardson Grove State Park... There is absolutely no basis in reality for believing that Caltrans ‘wants’ to ‘destroy’ old-growth redwoods. The evidence is quite obviously and overwhelmingly to the contrary.”
The decision concludes that “[t]he court has not found a violation of CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] at this time.” In its 30-page opinion, the court addressed and rejected the allegations in the petitioners’ challenge to Caltrans’ analysis in its Environmental Impact Report. The court decided that it needed additional information regarding only one aspect of the project: it asked Caltrans to show that it has adopted a reporting or monitoring program that is designed to ensure that it will employ the impact minimization measures discussed in its environmental study. The parties were requested to meet and agree on the timing for Caltrans to present this additional information to the court.
Monday’s ruling brings the challenges to the project a major step closer to resolution. Route 101 at Richardson Grove has been under study for more than ten years and Richardson Grove Improvement Project has been actively in development since 2006. Minor changes to the existing alignment will be made without removal of any old growth redwood trees in order to allow industry-standard sized truck access along this portion of Route 101. As the court emphasized in its decision, the project was planned and designed to avoid removing any old-growth trees, and many measures are in place to protect the surrounding trees throughout the area.
In light of the court’s ruling substantially rejecting the petitioner’s arguments, Caltrans will proceed as soon as possible to comply with the state court’s remaining request. In addition, Caltrans will be finalizing the re-survey of nearly 1,500 trees ordered by the federal court in its April 2012 decision. Caltrans will be able to provide an estimated completion date of both these aspects later this summer.
Caltrans’ mission is to improve mobility across California, including the North Coast. Route 101 through Richardson Grove is a beautiful area that Caltrans has a long history of maintaining. The court’s decision confirms the importance of that need. Caltrans is committed to delivering the least impactful alternative to accomplishing transportation goals that balance environmental protection and the economic needs of the entire region.
Caltrans maintains a web page with more information about the project at: www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1projects/richardson_grove/ .