Highway 101 through Richardson Grove

Highway 101 through Richardson Grove

Some of Caltrans’ highway expansion projects halted but heating up again; wetlands destruction continues in Willits.

Caltrans’ “Come hell or high water” attitude with its plans to accommodate larger trucks on our coastal highway, and refusal to budge in the face of broad public opposition, clear threats to California’s sensitive habitats and species, permit suspensions, and lack of demonstrated need. We bring you brief updates

Richardson Grove: They’re back, now facing another lawsuit.

After the 2010 federal lawsuit filed by EPIC, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and others found Caltrans’ claim of “no significant impact” from their proposed jack-hammer shovel excavation around the roots of ancient redwoods in the State Park to be “arbitrary and capricious” in 2012, the agency was sent back to the drawing board. Subsequent documents submitted by Caltrans to “correct” inaccuracies and analysis were wholly inadequate, not a big surprise. After they filed a notice of their intention to restart essentially the same project, another lawsuit was filed—this most recent action in July 2014, pointing out that Caltrans has failed to correct the many errors in mapping and measuring the ancient redwoods, as required by the federal judge in 2012. Richardson Grove State Park, protected since 1922, is habitat for threatened or endangered species like the marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, salmon and steelhead trout.

Smith River image

Wild and Scenic Smith River: More Highway widening plans

After a federal court in the spring of 2014 granted an injunction halting any work on this project until the case (filed by EPIC, CBD and Friends of Del Norte) until the case can be heard in November 2014, Caltrans agreed about three weeks ago in July to reevaluate the impacts of the project on endangered salmon. The Smith is the last undammed river in California, in the wild redwood forests of far northwestern California. Before the court decision, Caltrans had announced their intention to “start blasting” (their term) in early May of this year. As with the other two Caltrans projects on the north coast, Caltrans purpose is to allow access for the largest and heaviest trucks on the highways, wholly inappropriate on the coastal roads. Those trucks already travel on I-5.

Wetlands destruction in Mendocino County

Wetlands destruction in Mendocino County

The Caltrans Willits Bypass: wetlands and Native sites

This project is furthest along, though not for lack of an energetic, focused and non-stop campaign waged primarily by local residents. Just this week, there is renewed activity in opposition to Caltrans attempts to move fill from an old lumber mill site to dump on the wetlands being drained for the Bypass.

In a move that was welcomed by but that stunned long-time of the Bypass project and stung Caltrans, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) suspended the permit for the Willits Bypass on June 20. ACE regulates impacts on federally protected wetlands and waterways. Disappointingly, ACE conditionally reinstated the permit on July 10, but presumably accompanied by greater scrutiny regarding wetlands mitigation. Downsizing of the northern end of the Bypass to reduce wetlands destruction is still the goal for us.

Massive numbers of trees have been cut in the oak woodlands, and 50,000 wick drains sunk deep into 90 acres of wetlands while the campaign in opposition to the size of the Bypass has included lawsuits, lobbying of the Water Board and other agencies and elected representatives, and public communication directly with Caltrans. At least fifty people were arrested last year.

The local organizing group along with Earth First!, Save Our Little Lake Valley (SOLLV) posts excellent updates and photos on a frequent basis.

In addition to wetlands destruction, a long list of missed deadlines, violations of the Migratory Bird Act, the Clean Water Act, and other habitat threats, it came to the attention of local Tribes that archaeological sites were buried under new fill without Tribal consultation, as required by law.

This first came to light in September 2013, months after the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians repeatedly asked Caltrans to “plot all known cultural resource locations onto existing project plans”…”ensure responsible in-field monitoring of these locations,” and to place barriers around 7 known archaeological sites. None of these things were done, and the issue was subsequently also taken up by the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians with action that continues—at present, the Pomos are asking for government-to-government consultations with Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration regarding damage done to ancestral sites.

Tribal Representative Priscilla Hunter said, “There are so many archaeological sites in the construction area that the Calif. Office of Historic Preservation has declared that the entire area of the Bypass could be designated an “archaeological district”, and thus our Tribe has called for a downsizing of the Project’s footprint in order to protect these sites.”

Obviously, we still need to do what we can to PUT THE BRAKES ON CALTRANS! An independent report and now elected representatives in Sacramento (notably Sen. Mark DeSaulnier) have spoken out about the unaccountable, non-transparent, intimidating and car-centric culture that has caused the agency to remain stuck in a bygone paradigm and arrogantly ignore deadlines and agency rules, as well as ecological values that matter to the people of California. For background and other posts, please check our website: HeadwatersPreserve.org.

It’s not just the Bridge bolts, Caltrans. It’s also redwoods, wetlands and salmon.

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