United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER ON REMEDY
WILLIAM ALSUP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
order requires Caltrans to prepare an EIS if it still wishes
to proceed with the road project through Richardson Grove
previous order detailed the long history of this action (Dkt.
No. 107). In brief, various local residents and environmental
groups object to a California Department of Transportation
proposal aimed at widening Highway 101 where it curves
through the Richardson Grove of ancient old-growth redwoods.
The project sought to provide extra-long trucks more direct
access to Humboldt county.
National Environmental Policy Act requires agencies
undertaking “major” projects to take a hard look
at the project's environmental consequences. 42 U.S.C.
§ 4332(C). To satisfy this “hard look, ” as
our court of appeals has called it, the agency must develop
an environmental impact statement, a comprehensive study that
rigorously assesses the environmental effects of the project.
The underlying regulations, however, permit the agency to
delete this requirement if, based on a preliminary
“environmental assessment, ” the agency
determines that the project would have “no significant
impact” on the environment. 40 C.F.R. § 1508.9.
road project in question, after many years of litigation, the
Court finds that Caltrans has bent over backwards to fudge
the facts to avoid an EIS. In eight years, Caltrans has
issued three FONSIs based on three separate EAs. Not one EA
or FONSI has withstood scrutiny. Caltrans has never issued an
recently, in May 2019, an order granted summary judgment in
favor of plaintiffs and against Caltrans, finding that the
third EA/FONSI had not been fully informed or well-considered
(Dkt. No. 107). Specifically, the EA/FONSI glossed over four
items. First, Caltrans had not considered the impact
of added cement paving directly over the root health zones on
the redwoods' oxygen intake. Second, Caltrans
had not adequately explained why it defied the California
State Parks Handbook not to construct in the root zones of
the redwoods. Third, the impact of the noise from
the extra long trucks and added traffic on visitor enjoyment
of the park remained a mystery. Fourth, no
consideration had been given as to the potency of direct
strikes to roadside redwoods from these more massive trucks.
These issues rendered the agency decision not to prepare an
EIS arbitrary and capricious.
order requested further briefing to determine the remedy,
namely whether to remand for a fourth EA versus order an EIS.
Having received this supplemental briefing (Dkt. Nos. 110,
111, 113, 114), this order follows.
agency must be required to produce an EIS when there are
“substantial questions whether [the] project may have a
significant effect.” Ocean Advocates v. U.S. Army
Corps of Eng'rs, 402 F.3d 846, 864-65 (9th Cir.
2005) (citations omitted). The Council on Environmental
Quality regulations define significance by context and
intensity. 40 C.F.R. 1508.27. To evaluate context, an agency
must address the long-term and short-term interests of the
locality and society as a whole. 40 C.F.R. § 1508.27(a).
To evaluate intensity, an agency must look at the severity of
factors define intensity. In some circumstances, the presence
of just one factor necessitates an EIS. Ocean
Advocates, 402 F.3d at 865. Here, substantial questions
exist as to four of these factors. This order
therefore holds Caltrans must prepare an EIS.
40 C.F.R. § 1508.27(b)(3).
questions have been raised as to “unique
characteristics of the geographic area such as proximity to
historic or cultural resources.” 40 C.F.R. §
1508.27(b)(3). Richardson Grove State Park is a unique
geographic area. Coastal old-growth redwood trees are
exceedingly scarce and the grove is designated as a park
because of its unique features. The park hosts some of the
last remaining old-growth redwoods in the world. To quote
Professor Edward Sturgeon:
One of the most unique tree species in the world, redwood
(Sequoia sempervirens (D.Don) (Endl.), is impressive
because of the great size and age attained at maturity. The
redwood trees are found in a narrow strip of land along this
Northern California coast from Monterey County to Oregon.
These trees attract tourists and visitors from all the states
of the nation and from foreign countries.
(Sturgeon 1964) (2017 AR 1146) (internal citation omitted).
These old-growth redwoods can be thousands of years old and
300 feet tall (ibid.). Moreover, “the name
‘Richardson Grove' became synonymous with the
redwoods” (Hawk 2004) (2017 AR 1763).
project will subject 72 old-growth trees in the park to cuts
and fills to their roots in their structural root zones (and
103 old-growth trees in the park in their root health zones).
At least two old-growth trees in the park will have
over half their root health zones paved over (a third
old-growth tree outside the park will also have over half its
root health zone paved over). The administrative record
establishes there is a substantial question as to whether
these two old-growth redwoods can survive such a high
percentage of root-zone paving. A ...