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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 16 Update from Richardson Grove Action Now

On Wednesday, March 16, at 10 am, a group of us {activists involved with Richardson Grove Action Now} took a stroll and conducted a scouting mission up Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park and properties adjacent to the park. In addition to enjoying the immense beauty and serenity of the area, we made some observations and gained several insights that we would like to share with you.

Knowing that CalTrans has plans to replace and update the culverts (the pipe network that allows moving water to move from one side of the road to the other) on the southern end of the grove, we decided to take a close look at the culverts as they currently are. Since there was a good amount of rain earlier in the morning, the culverts, which are large pipes buried under the ground between the depths of 1-5 feet (I'd say) , were in full action with water being channeled under the road and crashing down the hillsides. A couple of us surveyed the culverts for a species of concern, a sort of rare salamander that could be endangered by this project. Though we did not find any trace of this elusive critter, we could not help but notice that some of the culverts run between thirty and forty yards (I'd say) into the state park. How is CalTrans planning to replace these culverts, some of which, as we mentioned, are a good five feet down in depth, without causing harm to nearby ancient redwood roots? The roots are also between one and five feet in depth.

Along the Richardson Grove stretch of Highway 101 we saw a number of CalTrans survey stakes, on the east side of the road, marked with a cryptic series of numbers and letters. We documented the stakes by photo and are now in the process of trying to make sense of these markers. There was speculation that some of these markers may be new (a week or so old), though this theory has not yet been confirmed. In any case, we were shocked by how close in proximity the stakes are in relation to massive, old growth redwoods. From what we understand, these stakes mark the borders of the CalTrans road widening project. If this is indeed true, and after looking at the Environmental Impact Report it seems to be, then CalTrans is planning to pave right up to many old growth trees. Given what we know about redwood root growth patterns, which are generally shallow and wide reaching, as well as modern road construction techniques, which effect the ground several feet below the pavement surface, this does not appear to bode well for the health and longevity of these living relics.

As we continued to head north and out of the state park area on our journey through the old growth forest, we observed, on a sharp curve on the west side of Highway 101 across from the Singing Trees Recovery Center about fifteen feet up on a steep slope, more brightly colored markers, similar to the markers that we saw earlier. If you were to picture the space in between the road and these markers filled with pavement (which if it were to be somewhat level would require the excavation

and removal of a hillside), the resulting image would be, comparatively to what is currently there, a section of road that is wider with a significantly less sharp curve. This is interesting, because CalTrans has insisted throughout the history of this project that their plan would not “straighten” the road but rather, as they claim, only marginally widen it in certain areas. If indeed it is part of CalTrans' plan to straighten the road in this section, the result would significantly reduce the aesthetic appeal of the north entrance to the park and moreover, add to its destruction.

Throughout our stroll and scouting mission, we could not help but notice that the electrical/telephone/cable lines are relatively short in height in the Richardson Grove section when compared to the lines on rest of Highway 101. In fact, by our estimation, some of the lines offer only a mere foot and a half of clearance for the tops of the larger trucks passing underneath them. It seems logical then to assume, since CalTrans has stated that its reason for "improving" this section of road is to allow greater access to larger trucks (although it is illegal to do any sort of construction in a state park for the purpose of perceived economic gain) that these lines will also be "improved". This seems especially likely because some of the poles that support the weight of these lines are in areas that are designated to be paved over. Given this, it seems to us, although we are not really sure, that PG&E., AT&T, Sudden Link, and possibly other line owners must also be scheduling work in the Richardson Grove area in the near future.

Constant research and information is vitally important for us in our fight to stop CalTrans' plan to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove. Although today's stroll through the proposed project area provided us with a more clear view of what is happening on the ground, there is still MUCH that we want to understand about the on-ground, day-to-day logistics. There is no injunction (stop order) from the courts to halt the construction project to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove. CalTrans has already begun the preliminary steps (surveys, permit acquisitions, contractor bids, etc.) to begin the on-the-ground work. We do not know the exact date that construction will begin but we do know that it is likely to occur in the near future. The time is now to stop this, the time is urgent, we must act!

Note: In December 2010, CalTrans made representations to the court and to the entities suing to stop the plan through Richardson Grove, that work on the project would not begin until at least June 2011. However, CalTrans has been preparing for the road widening. On the CalTrans website, culvert and other work are officially posted to begin this month, March 2011. Feel free to ask CalTrans employees yourself (at the office or on the ground) what they are doing!

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