In a ruling Thursday, Jan. 30, the California Court of Appeals determined that Caltrans must reevaluate the environmental impact report for the proposed U.S. Highway 101 widening project in Richardson Grove State Park, according to a press release from attorneys representing plaintiffs in the dispute over the project.
A separate lawsuit filed in federal court resulted in a 2012 ruling that Caltrans must redo critical aspects of its environmental analysis under federal law. The court cited numerous errors in mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods, and found that Caltrans had been "arbitrary and capricious" in their use of "faulty data."
According to the press release from the Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy law firm, the appeals court found Caltrans did not provide enough information on potential impacts on old growth redwood trees in the grove and did not provide mitigation measures to reduce those impacts.
The Richardson Grove Improvement Project would widen one and one-tenth miles of highway to allow standard-sized shipping trucks to travel through the grove, according to the Caltrans website. Four local residents and three environmental groups - the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Center for Biological Diversity and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics - filed the lawsuit against Caltrans in 2010, claiming that Caltrans' environmental impact report failed to include cumulative environmental impacts and where they would occur. The plaintiffs argued that the project would impact about 74 old growth redwood trees; Caltrans' website says that the project would not remove any old growth redwoods.
"This is a victory for Richardson Grove's ancient trees and for the generations of travelers, hikers and campers who have enjoyed their magnificence," said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Kevin Bundy. "Caltrans owes the public a full and honest account of how its highway-widening plans could damage this irreplaceable state park."
"The significance of this ruling cannot be overstated," said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director at the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). "Our ancient redwoods are invaluable, and we hope Caltrans gets the message that their survival cannot be put at risk by a careless highway development proposal."
"This illustrates how important the California Environmental Quality Act is for ensuring that major projects are subject to a thorough environmental review," said Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATS). "The court has made an important decision that respects our responsibility to protect Richardson Grove as a natural treasure for future generations."
A statement issued by Caltrans on Friday stated, "Caltrans remains committed to delivering this important interregional transportation project in a sustainable way and will work to comply with the court's ruling. This project is planned and designed not to remove any old-growth redwood trees. Measures are in place to protect the surrounding redwoods in the area."
For more information about the Richardson Grove Improvement Project, please visit the project's web page: www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1projects/richardson_grove/