Wednesday, May 20, the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity vowed an all out legal challenge against an ill-advised highway-widening project that not only threatens the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park, but could also change the rural character of Humboldt County.
The California Department of Transportation filed official notice of approval for the project, but the agency has not yet made its final Environmental Impact Report for the controversial project available to the public. The highway project is widely opposed by local residents, business owners, conservation and Native American groups, and economists as unnecessary and damaging to the state park, the venerable old-growth grove, wildlife, tourism, and the coastal communities of Humboldt County.
Caltrans and certain business interests have attempted for decades to provide access for larger commercial trucks through the area, and in the past few years have pushed for widening the narrow, meandering section of Highway 101 through the world-renowned ancient redwood grove in Richardson Grove State Park. This park at the southern entrance to Humboldt County is considered to be the “redwood curtain” protecting the small communities of the north coast from blight and urban development. Public outcry has so far protected the grove from development, but Caltrans and a handful of business interests have aggressively pushed for access for larger trucks.
Caltrans claims the “realignment” project is needed to safely accommodate large-truck travel, remove the restriction of larger vehicles on this section of highway, and improve movement of commercial goods.
“The project as proposed by Caltrans threatens to destroy old-growth redwood root systems and harm critical habitat for the endangered marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in old growth” said Peter Galvin, Conservation Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re prepared to fight this and call on elected officials to pressure Caltrans to rescind its approval.”
Established in 1922, Richardson Grove State Park was recently rated as one of the top 100 state parks in the United States, and attracts thousands of visitors from around the world every year to explore one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwoods. It is here you first encounter significant old-growth forest when driving north and this popular tourist destination has provided many people with a transformative experience walking through some of the oldest living beings on the planet.
“Since time immemorial, the grove has held, and still holds, great cultural and spiritual significance for local indigenous tribal peoples, some of whom trace their ancestry to this place,” said Priscilla Hunter, chair of the Inter-Tribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, a coalition of 10 federally recognized Native American tribes that oppose the project.
Bigger trucks do not somehow translate to consumer savings, but do increase wear and tear on roadways and decrease safety for smaller vehicles. The widening would provide incentive for big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot to move into Humboldt County, to the detriment of local businesses. The reality is that this project has the potential to change forever a rural lifestyle cherished by residents of the North Coast.
“We shouldn’t sacrifice Richardson Grove, a publicly owned recreational and biological jewel, so that a few companies dependent on antiquated business plans can increase profits,” said Kerul Dyer, Richardson Grove campaign coordinator for the Environmental Protection Information Center.
The project is opposed by the Environmental Protection Information Center, Save Richardson Grove Coalition, North Coast Environmental Center, Inter-tribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, Friends of the Eel River, Center for Biological Diversity, Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters, and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, among others.
***Primary Source: press release from Center for Biological Diversity. Jean Williams 2010