Here is my perspective on the order handed down by judge Reinholtsen in the CEQA lawsuit challenging the Richardson Grove project. Most of these points were ignored by the media coverage.
The judge issued a 30-page order in which he found that "the STAA truck restriction is not (his emphasis) the most important constraint on business development in Humboldt County, and that it appears that lifting the restriction many only prevent further economic losses; it would not generate significant new growth." Interestingly, the judge seems unaware, or simply ignores the fact that STAA trucks do have access to Humboldt County over Highway 101 from the north and also potentially via Highway 299 from the east.
In another section of the order he completely omits any analysis of the cumulative effects of increased truck traffic on carbon emissions and global warming. I guess he is unaware that the World Health Organization has just raised diesel emissions to the level of a carcinogen.
He seems to place his main analysis of the adequacy of the EIR on whether the project will or will not have a significant environmental impact to potentially ruin the profound aesthetic experience provided by the old-growth redwoods. He states that the record reflects that the value of the old-growth redwoods in the park stems not from the fact that they represent a significant portion of the scarce old-growth redwoods, but from the fact that their location allows them to provide a profound aesthetic experience to millions of drivers and an unknown number of park visitors.
He seems to miss the point that if the trees are weakened or die in the future by the disturbance to their roots then that will certainly be a significant environmental impact to the profound aesthetic experience provided by the trees. He defers to the expertise of Darin Sullivan, an arborist, without disclosing or acknowledging that Mr. Sullivan is an employee of Caltrans. Sorry, but it is hard to believe in his objectivity. The judge dismissed the park’s own guidelines prohibiting construction in the root zone of old-growth trees as a general warning and not significant.
He accuses those who oppose the project of making false claims that old-growth redwoods would be taken down. This is plainly not true. Opponents of the project have tried to make it very clear that the concern is for the health of the trees and the endangered species that depend on them.
I am sure that veterans of the environmental struggles here in Humboldt County are not surprised at the dismissive tone of the judge’s order. This is why a companion case has been filed in federal court where hometown ties are not as pervasive. The federal injunction that is halting the project is still in place and even this, frankly disappointing order, still does not green-light the project.
It was disclosed at the hearing that Bryan M. Plumley of Arcata who is employed by Edward Jones (a financial advisory firm) is the investment advisor to judge Reinholtsen and members of his family. Mr. Plumley is married to Kim Floyd, the project manager for Caltrans. The judge claims not to have met Ms. Floyd and has a business-only relationship with her husband. However he has, on occasion, loaned his vacation home in Oregon to the couple. The plaintiff’s’ attorneys decided not to ask the judge to recuse himself over this conflict. Mr. Plumley was also the author of a My Word in favor of the project, one of six orchestrated by the Economic Development Department of the county.
Caltrans is the biggest road-building operation on the planet. In 2009-2010 it had revenues of over $9 billion dollars, greater than the gross national product of most nations.It will continue to generate projects to build and widen highways whether we need them or not. In an era of impending climate change and peak petroleum production do we really want to continue down this road?