You have in your hands the second part of Journal freelancer Cristina Bauss' exploration of the controversies surrounding Caltrans' proposed Richardson Grove Improvement Project. This is the first time in my editorship, and possibly in Journal history, that we have devoted two consecutive covers to the same topic. There are two reasons that we decided to break the rule: Bauss' excellent reporting, and the mountain of confusion and disinformation that has surrounded the project.
The Richardson Grove Improvement Project is, by Caltrans standards, a tiny little piece of road work, costing $7 million from soup to nuts. The aim, as Bauss catalogued in last week's installment, is to make Humboldt County accessible to industry-standard trucks, which are slightly larger than the ones currently allowed to enter the county. It would accomplish this by smoothing a couple of curves in Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. Some trees -- scrub oak, mostly, and a few very young redwoods -- would be removed. Some of the roots of a few old growth redwoods would be carefully excavated and cut; there is no reason to believe that these trees' overall health would be hampered. (As Bauss points out, the old growth currently lining the highway survived much less tender treatment 100 years ago.) In the end, small manufacturers and retailers would experience significant savings on their shipping bill.
For whatever reason, and post-Timber War boredom is as good an answer as any, the opposition to the project -- led by the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Northcoast Environmental Center and McKinleyville's Dr. Ken Miller, intellectual author of District Attorney Paul Gallegos' failed lawsuit against the Pacific Lumber Co. -- have been hyperbolic in their denunciation. Their Grovies' radio ads tell the tale: The project will "blow a hole" in Richardson Grove! Big box hell, everywhere! (Notwithstanding the fact that Costco and Target, along with innumerable other retailers, survive the lack of STAA access just fine.) Humboldt County will become Santa Rosa! A retaining wall would be built!
This is the problem. When once-respected enviros froth in rage at the horror of someone somewhere building a new retaining wall, who loses? There is a segment of our citizenry -- a not-insignificant minority -- eager to believe that big box America is cloistered over a map somewhere, plotting the deflowering of virgin Humboldt County. When they are continuously stroked and flattered with the absurd idea that the Richardson Grove Improvement Project is the culmination of these mustachioed evil-doers' schemes, who pays the bill for that?
Sure, in the sense that our politics become even stupider and more paranoid than they already are, we all do. More specifically, though, they do. Because the previously baseless slam against Humboldt County lefties -- that they just hate jobs! -- suddenly becomes somewhat less baseless. Because the organizations that they're hurting most -- small manufacturers like Cypress Grove Chevre and Lost Coast Brewery, a nonprofit like the Arcata Recycling Center -- are lost to them as allies in the much more real and much more serious fights over the future direction of the county, for instance in the still-pending rewrite of the county's general plan. Because they waste all their time and energy and political capital on a bunch of nonsense, instead of actual, important, maybe life-or-death environmental issues like the general plan or global warming or agricultural reform or the Pacific Trash Gyre or a hundred other things. If I were one of the big bad boogiemen of the Grovie subconscious, I'd be twirling that mustache in glee at the site of the Humboldt County left upending itself in such an inconsequential bog.
Anyway, stroll on over to northcoastjournal.com a couple of hours after this column and the second part of Bauss' article go live. Click on one of them and scroll down a bit until you get to the comments from Jeff Muskrat, who came to Humboldt prominence several years ago as a member of Earth First! My bet: You will find paragraph after paragraph of the frothing and righteousness referenced above, salted with random accusations that Bauss, myself or the Journal at large must be now be in the pocket of Rob Arkley or Home Depot or God knows who else. Read Muskrat's work -- widely available at a million other spots on the Web -- and you will have the Grovie campaign in a nutshell. If you find anything sensible in it, or anything that hasn't already been asked and answered, do let me know.