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EPIC files lawsuit against CalTrans road adjustment

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HUMBOLDT, Calif. - An ongoing legal battle between the California Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Information Center has delayed adjustments to the stretch of Highway 101 that goes through Richardson Grove State Park. The most recent lawsuit was filled in the Humboldt County Superior Court on June 23. CalTrans representative Eli Rohl said that the discussion has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade.

"Back in 2007 we proposed a project that would allow industry standard trucks to pass through Richardson Grove," Rohl said. "We've got some curves where STAA length trucks can't properly make the turns on the highway."

STAA trucks are slightly longer than standard semi-trucks, making it difficult for them to drive on winding roads, according to Rohl.

"We can see there is some off-tracking due to the geometry of the roadway, which off-tracking is a fancy way of saying some part of the truck at one point or another crosses into oncoming traffic."

Rohl said the legal battle has cost CalTrans $30 million for what was supposed to be a $3 million project. But for EPIC program manager Tom Wheeler, the fight is worth it to prevent harm to the trees that line the road through Richardson Grove.

"We have so few of these forests left, these ancient Redwood forests, and they are incredibly precious," Wheeler said. "They have been standing for over a thousand years and to harm them, to pave them is an affront to deeply held values."

CalTrans said the agency has spent time and money conducting environmental impact studies to combat EPIC's lawsuit. Then in 2012, they said an appellate court told them the studies they had already conducted were not sufficient.

"Basically what the appellate court said was we can't support your finding of no significant impact without further environmental studies, and so we went back and did another three years of environmental studies," Wheeler said.

Rohl said that adjusting the road will be economically beneficial to the businesses in Humboldt because shipping would be more convenient. Wheeler combated this saying that Highway 5 is the optimal route for shipping, and that the benefits do not compare to the risks that construction poses to old growth redwood trees.

However, Rohl said that the project will only remove non-old growth trees and will impact the land as minimally as possible.

"We never had the intention to remove old growth redwood trees," Rohl said

Despite conservation efforts from CalTrans, EPIC still sees the project as a threat to the trees.

"The project will result in harm to ancient redwood trees and that fact is indisputable," Wheeler said. "The degree to which this harm occurs is perhaps up in the air."

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