A federal judge in San Francisco has halted a Caltrans plan to widen a road through an ancient redwood forest in Richardson Grove State Park in Humboldt County to accommodate extra-large trucks.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup on Friday set aside an environmental assessment completed by Caltrans in 2017.
Alsup ordered more environmental study on whether the construction would damage tree roots, increase the danger of trucks running into trees and increase traffic noise affecting public enjoyment of the park. The 2,000-acre state park on the southern border of Humboldt County contains old-growth redwood trees up to 3,000 years old and 300 feet tall.
A one-mile, two-lane stretch of U.S. Highway 101 runs through the park. The road widening planned by Caltrans would allow extra-large trucks with trailers up to 53 feet long to use the highway. Four conservation groups sued to block the project, claiming the construction and paving could damage the roots of more than 100 ancient redwoods in the grove.
Center for Biological Diversity Programs Director Peter Galvin said in a statement:
“We’re elated that the court rejected Caltrans’s misguided and deeply destructive plan. The ancient trees and wildlife of Richardson Grove are too important to pave over.”
Matt Brady, the director of Caltrans District 1 in northern coastal California, said the agency is reviewing the ruling and “considering options moving forward”:
“Caltrans remains committed to serving the public with a safe and sustainable state highway system that supports the local economy and jobs while preserving the natural beauty of the North Coast.”
Alsup ordered both sides to submit briefs by May 23 saying whether Caltrans should prepare a new environmental assessment or must prepare a more thorough federal environmental impact statement.
Caltrans assumed environmental responsibilities for the U.S. highway widening at the request of the Federal Highway Administration in 2007.
In addition to the Center for Biological Diversity, the plaintiffs in the 2017 lawsuit are the Environmental Protection Information Center, Friends of Del Norte, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and four local residents.