Richardson Grove DEIR violates the law

Guest Opinion

By Robert Sutherland (aka the man who walks in the woods)

Dear Ms. Harmon,

Please enter these comments into the permanent record for the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project Environmental Assessment.

The Environmental Assessment (DEIR) violates California and federal law and I request the project be denied.

This project proposal has come to my attention through the media. Over time, numerous people have commented on the proposed project in both print and broadcast media, and I have read and listened to all that I had access to. The large majority of commenters have been opposed to the project, and the single most frequent theme that I noticed in the comments is that the proposed project will degrade our quality of life through changes associated with induced population growth, including among others increased traffic, commercial development including big box stores, increased population density, and the associated loss of our relatively rural values. Population growth generally also adversely impacts the natural environment. It appears to be widely understood then by the public that this project proposes significant adverse growth inducing impacts. Growth inducing impacts must be considered pursuant to CEQA, as you appear to recognize by your discussions in the draft EIR (especially at DEIR pp 31-36). That commenters persist in their objections in the face of your DEIR arguments suggests your review is incomplete or otherwise flawed.

I agree that the growth-inducing impacts are likely the most significant adverse environmental impacts of the proposed project and that your discussion of them fails to capture the magnitude of this problem. Your DEIR portrays that the traffic bottleneck that the project addresses is the one remaining significant stricture to traffic flow on the vehicle traffic routing from the Bay Area metropolitan region to Eureka, because the Confusion Hill Realignment project has also occurred. The removal of this Richardson Grove bottleneck will have an enormous impact on flow of traffic, goods, population, and culture to the areas north of the bottleneck, namely all of Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. Humboldt County, at least, is mostly populated by persons choosing and preferring a more rural, nature-oriented culture than is readily available anywhere in the Bay Area megalopolis. Universally folks in this area decry the development that has afflicted Santa Rosa, for example, as some of the commenters noted in my preceding paragraph specifically noted. We understand however that there is among us a minority who think little of sacrificing our quality of life for their own proximal gains such as personal profit. The public comment suggests that the large majority of Humboldt County citizens objects to your idea of catering to those individuals. I do not see in your document systematic and objective polling to test these views, but they bear importantly on your document: It is apparent to me that the critical public is responding to the fact that your arguments are nothing more than a well crafted post-hoc rationalization for a decision made well in advance. This is a flagrant violation of the letter and central purpose of CEQA.

Your showing that growth inducing impacts are insignificant is disingenuous; in fact, it could not be otherwise in order for you to finesse this unwelcome and legally corrupt project. As a resident of this area for about forty years, I myself, as well as many others, have observed the many changes that have accompanied the gradual northward development of Highway 101. Clearly they have been caused by the development of the highway; other towns well away from the highway have not developed in such a catastrophic way. Surely adequate documentation of these changes exists, but you have chosen not to show it. For example, take Willits, the largest town immediately south of the proposed project. Willits has become a nightmare of overdevelopment since the upgrading of Highway 101 south of it. Why have you not closely examined the relation of development there to the increase in traffic patterns? This is the degradation of communities and environment brought about by infrastructure development, and the Richardson Grove proposed realignment is just another step -- a cumulatively considerable step -- in the spread of the disease of development into our communities and our natural environment. This significant adverse cumulative impact is again inadequately addressed in the document and it is a mandatory finding of significance that must be seriously considered, and not in a post-hoc manner. Withdraw the DEIR and stop the project.

I have these further criticisms of the project and the DEIR: The DEIR is sloppily done and replete with errors. For example, "Indian warrior" is not even in the same family as Delphinium and there is no species nudcale; the entire discussion on DEIR 79-80 is superficial (as a botanist I also doubt that Quercus berberidifolia was observed). Although the DEIR discusses the Western Pond Turtle (DEIR at 95, 96-7; Natural Environment Study [Appendix I] at 16) it is inappropriately not listed in Appendix H. Park staff surely must know of wildlife travel routes across the highway, but for inscrutable reasons you chose not to consult them (DEIR 85). Where they exist you should provide subgrade passageways. Similarly, you should correct perched culvert lips to grade in such a way as to facilitate wildlife passage (vide Natural Environment Study [Appendix I] at 17). A significant misinformation occurs in your discussions of the Spotted Owl: at DEIR 109 you say the nest is 1/4 mile from the project, but at DEIR 101 you say it is 1/2 mile away. I request a more careful evaluation of the Yuma Myotis roost. A similar roost on my own property, not very far from the project site, at times also harbors various other species, including Pallid Bats. In establishing the Purpose and Need for the project you rely very importantly upon a non-peer reviewed conclusory statement presented as fact; I refer to the quoted passages from the Regional Transportation Plan (DEIR 3), and given your use of this document it should by law be attached to the DEIR. If the project proceeds you should recirculate a new draft with the various missing documents attached. My impression also is that no biological surveys of the small area north of the Park but within the project area were conducted. If so, I believe that once again you have failed to comply with environmental law.

The DEIR is profoundly legally insufficient because it is merely a well crafted document meant to justify politically based decisions made well in advance of its preparation. Irrespective of the professionalism that the preparers may have been able to manifest, they should be ashamed to serve such a culturally bankrupt purpose. We take for granted the roads that are continually being built, and many of these are relatively innocuous. In this case it is NOT, and the impacts are terrible. This project proposes to step past an important threshold towards destroying particular lifeways and the natural environment they depend upon. It is cumulatively significant and adverse. The DEIR masterfully conceals these facts.

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