Caltrans recently had what amounted to a very bad day.
Specifically, Jan. 30, when Caltrans lost a major appellate court ruling on perhaps its highest profile North Coast project and was the subject of a scathing state report.
First, the California Court of Appeals overturned a trial court decision and ruled that Caltrans must re-evaluate the environmental impact report for its proposed project to widen U.S. Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. Specifically, the ruling found Caltrans violated the California Environmental Quality Act, and that its environmental impact report did not do enough to calculate the project’s potential impacts on old growth redwood trees in Richardson Grove.
The Environmental Protection Information Center — one of six plaintiffs in the case — hailed the court’s ruling as a victory.
“The significance of this ruling cannot be overstated,” said EPIC Executive Director Gary Graham Hughes in a press release. “Our ancient redwoods are invaluable, and we hope Caltrans gets the message that their survival cannot be put at risk by a careless highway development proposal.”
Caltrans spokesman Scott Burger said the agency could not provide an estimate as to how long it will take to revise the project's EIR, but the agency released a brief statement.
“Caltrans remains committed to delivering this important interregional transportation project in a sustainable way and will work to comply with the court’s ruling,” it said. “This project is planned and designed not to remove any old growth redwood trees. Measures are in place to protect the surrounding redwoods in the area.”
While many local businesses have clamored for the widening project — which they believe would decrease their costs by allowing larger shipping trucks to pass through the park — the ruling didn’t seem to cause much of a stir. Officials at both the Greater Eureka Area Chamber of Commerce and the Humboldt Small Business Development Center said they were unaware of it when recently contacted by the Journal.
Caltrans' day got worse when results of an independent review of the agency ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown were released and detailed a host of “long-standing problems.” Specifically, the review found that the agency’s mission, vision and goals are not aligned with the state’s current needs. The review also sharply criticized the agency for prioritizing new projects over the upkeep and maintenance of the state’s highway system. To read more about the report, see the Sacramento Bee’s story here.