Caltrans Just Won’t Quit Even When They Are Wrong…So Wrong.

RGbikebanner copyIt appeared for a time that the jackhammer shovels had been called off excavation duty around feeder roots of the redwood giants in Richardson Grove State Park. However, Caltrans just announced they plan to release new documents in the fall of 2015 to restart the project with a goal of making Hwy. 101 more accessible to over sized trucks. This announcement came only three months after news celebrated in early December 2014 that the highway agency would be withdrawing their permit documents in an agreement with the courts. Successful lawsuits–thanks to EPIC, CBD, CATS and individuals plus a long and determined campaign led to this short-lived victory.
Once Caltrans’ environmental assessment documents are released, a public comment period will commence; but there is no indication of a different, more ecologically sound approach, since they continue to claim publicly there will be “no adverse environmental impact” on the old growth redwood trees in this nearly 100-year-old park. The problems are many, but boil down to several key points:
  • Since redwoods have no tap roots, their laterally-spreading root system is particularly vulnerable.
  • Richardson Grove as a protected State Park, should be off limits to this disruptive highway work in the first place.
  • This highway “realignment”, along with the Willits and Smith River Caltrans projects is essentially a gift to the trucking industry, at taxpayers expense.
Some of the dirty politics behind the project were on view when the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors invited Caltrans to give an update at their March meeting, treating them like the injured party, as Caltrans complained about their high expenses (well, our money, actually) and about being sued. The Supes did not ask why their planning documents were so inadequate and incorrect in the first place, nor did they send them packing, as they should have. Caltrans does donate to local election campaigns.
Stay tuned for notice of the comment period! We will keep you informed.

 

Other Caltrans Projects

 Smith River image
Further north in the Smith River Canyon, Caltrans agreed in July 2014 to reassess threats to protected salmon populations of its hwy. 199/197 highway expansion project.  The project is halted until such analysis is completed. A legitimate review was never done for salmon and its habitat in this pristine riparian area, unfettered by dams; instead Caltrans proceeded with what a District judge called a “haphazard” consultation with fisheries agencies.  Once again, irreplaceable natural values were shunted aside at substantial taxpayer cost for the sake of the trucking industry. Last spring, Caltrans vowed it would start “blasting” in the rock canyon in May–no doubt with repercussions as dire as that would suggest.
While news regarding the Smith River project brought some temporary relief, the Willits Bypass barrels forward, ecological devastation and Native sites protection be damned. Caltrans and other agencies have turned a deaf ear to arguments to downsize the northern interchange, where the Bypass re-joins 101.  The glorified off-ramp has a huge footprint, designed  for a 4-lane Bypass, when in reality, two lanes are joining two lanes. Much wetlands acreage and Native archaeological sites could be spared by a downsized interchange.
Willits Bypass section collapse ~ photo courtesy Steve Eberhart, photographer, Willits News

Willits Bypass section collapse ~ photo courtesy Steve Eberhart, photographer, Willits News

The latest drama, however, came with a crash and boom heard ’round the valley on January 22, when 150 feet of Bypass highway infrastructure collapsed, temporarily trapping two workers, injuring five, one seriously.  Little Lake Fire Chief Carl Magann said he found it “amazing no one was killed.”  As well as workers, salmon and other aquatic life in Hael Creek were impacted due to alkaline wet cement spilling into the creek. This is certainly not the first debacle emblematic of Caltrans’ poor planning and engineering. Disasters on this Mendocino County project seem to parallel those on the Bay Bridge project, carried out by many of the same Caltrans contractors.

 

In a climate of persistent activism, agitation on the northern interchange continues as the Pomo People in both Coyote Valley and Sherwood Valley pursue a stop to and remedies for the destruction of irreplaceable archaeological sites. Agencies have been almost belligerently non-responsive on this issue, which brought our coalition protest to the San Francisco offices of the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) on November 18, 2014 for a large, loud and hours-long presence at the agency responsible for oversight of Caltrans. (See BACH post on Dec. 17)
Intrepid activists in Willits and Coyote Valley with whom we are collaborating continue to push on these issues, and called for an independent investigation of the highway collapse.

Comment Period: Please weigh in!

Caltrans is seeking public comment on its state-wide long-range transportation plan, accepting comments until April 17.
There is a webinar on the plan and public meetings, and comments can be submitted at those forums, or by email. The plan itself can be found at http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/tpp/californiatransplortationplan2040/index.shtm
We will be developing suggestions for comments, but wanted to give a heads up, since the comment period is short. Watch for our next BACH update
More info: See past posts at BACH: http://headwaterspreserve.org; also EPIC, SOLLV
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