Caltrans Richardson Grove Project Faces Opposition

Already drawing opposition and protests, Caltrans is planning to widen the stretch of Highway 101 that passes through Richardson Grove National Park. As stated in their Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Caltrans plans to remove trees, including a number of redwood tress, as part of a project meant to accommodate big rig trucks and boost local commerce.

According to Caltrans, the highway stretch through Richardson Grove is one of last sections of Highway 101 where trucks that conform to the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) are still prohibited. The STAA are standards that specify minimum dimensions for trucks that states must accommodate on the National Network, which includes Interstate Highways and other highways. Due to the sharp curves and narrow lanes, it is difficult, if not impossible, for larger trucks with trailers to travel safely through Richardson Grove.

Located about 150 miles south of the California-Oregon border, Richardson Grove National Park is one of the southernmost areas in California with redwood trees. Popular activities at the park include camping, hiking, swimming, and fishing. Additionally, the park features the 9th tallest coast redwood and a “walk-through” tree.

In the EIR, Caltrans proposed that up to 54 trees will be removed from about a quarter acre of land to be used for the project’s cuts and fills. The species of trees include tanoak, Douglas fir, and redwood trees, which Caltrans claims will be replanted.

Other environmental concerns of the project include the construction of a retaining wall, the temporary diversion of a stream during the project, and possible increased noise levels and during construction and pollution.

Supporters of the project include local businesses, such as artisan cheese-makers, brewers, and manufacturers of machine parts. Shipping to and from the north coast of California is very expensive due to the lack of a major shipping port and accessible rail lines.

Despite Caltrans’s claims that the project will have minimal environmental impacts, many residents and activists oppose the project. An activist group called Richardson Grove Action Now has sent out letters to contractors that may be interested in the project. In the letter, the activists discouraged contractors from bidding on the project and threatened to disrupt construction during the project. The disruptions would add to construction costs and damages. The letter also warns that the local businesses benefiting from the Caltrans project would face “public notoriety; a PR nightmare”.

The FBI is allegedly investigating the activist group for sending out these letters as a form of eco-terrorism. An FBI spokeswoman did not deny nor confirm these allegations.

The Richardson Grove Action Now group is also responsible for the protests to the project held at a Caltrans office and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors chambers. Local police have reported peaceful protests so far.

The Environmental Protection Information Center, working independently of Richardson Grove Action Now, also opposes the project. Says executive director Gary Graham Hughes, “I think there’s a lot of validity that businesses want to be attentive to what kind of risk to their brand might be present from being involved with the Richardson Grove project. I think countywide, there’s a big question of brand and trademark at stake. The redwoods is the most powerful, globally-recognized brand that Humboldt County has.”

In its current state, some visitors of the park already feel the stretch of Highway 101 contributes noise. A review on mentions that traffic from the highway running through the park is considerably noisy. With the addition of big rigs, noise levels would undoubtedly increase.

Another battle between economy and environment, some see the project as “an old way of thinking.” Instead of accommodating big rigs, activist Barbara Kennedy believes, “It is time to begin the end of our dependence on diesel trucking and begin to divert our resources to other modes of goods movement that will be more economical and less damaging to the environment.”

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