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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Open Letter to Gov Jerry Brown from Richardson Grove Action Now

March 30, 2011
Sent Via Facsimile, U.S. Mail, and Electronic Mail

RE: Opposition to California Department of Transportation's Highway 101 Road Widening Project Through Richardson Grove State Park (project number #464804)

Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Open Letter to Governor Jerry Brown,

We, Richardson Grove Action Now, are writing today to inform you of CalTrans' plan to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park in hopes that you will use your power to prevent this project from proceeding. The word “inform” has been used very specifically here. Given that you're known for your reverence of the ancient redwood forests and indeed your respect for your constituents, many of whom make the North Coast their home, we cannot imagine that you are aware of the specifics of this project. Before we outline those specifics, we would like to relay the words of John Muir displayed on a placard in Richardson Grove State Park: “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods.” However, the end of Muir's statement, not seen on this placard, continues as follows: “But he cannot save them from fools.” Let us not be fools.

A major concern with the proposed project to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove is the damage it will cause to the ancient old-growth redwoods in and around the Grove. Many of these living monuments already border the road and many more are within several feet. The proposed project, as outlined in CalTrans' Environmental Impact Report [EIR], entails cutting forest and widening the road so that the asphalt reaches the trunks of ancient trees. Redwood root systems are both shallow and wide. Thus, in order to expand the road, CalTrans intends to “excavate” and cut into the root systems of ancient trees and impact them with pavement. Although CalTrans claims that it will not be cutting roots larger than two inches in diameter, it is clear, once again from the EIR, that this claim is false. CalTrans likely tells this lie because it is well known that redwoods experience canopy die-off when their root systems are damaged. It is also disingenuous for CalTrans to claim it will not fall ancient trees for this project. The road and shoulder expansion that CalTrans plans cannot physically fit between several of the huge, ancient redwoods lining the narrowest parts of the road. Cutting trees in the State Park and compromising the health and vitality of old-growth redwoods, especially considering how few of them are left on Earth, is unacceptable.

The purpose of the federally and state funded “Richardson Grove Improvement Project” (as it's dubbed by CalTrans) is economic in nature. As stated on the CalTrans website, the project would allow Surface Transportation Assistance Act [STAA] trucks heavier use of Highway 101 north of Leggett. Currently, the smooth area of road running through Richardson Grove State Park is the only section of Highway 101 where STAA trucks are restricted from traveling, although these trucks are regularly granted exemptions and do pass through the area. CalTrans alleges that the STAA prohibition (albeit exemptions) results in economic disadvantage because “truck cargo must be unloaded and transferred to shorter trucks, making goods movement more expensive.” Though we do not believe in this reasoning, as will be further discussed later in this letter, our purpose in mentioning it here is to highlight that this project is clearly predicated on economic, not safety or environmental, reasons. Interfering with a state park for economic purposes is not only wrong; it is illegal. Furthermore, in this time of economic crisis, the ten million plus dollars that are being allocated for the road widening project through the Grove could be better utilized elsewhere.

The 1.1 mile stretch of Highway 101 that passes through Richardson Grove State Park announces one's southern entry into redwood country. It is both the symbolic and literal threshold to what is lovingly known as the Redwood Curtain. Beyond this portal exists a relatively strong regional economy where the majority of businesses are locally-owned. Allowing easier and constant access to this area for more STAA trucks will open the flood gates for large, multi-national corporations to gain a foothold here. Indeed, this is what the project to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove is truly about. While it may offer an economic boost for some in the short term, we know that time and time again, this pattern of economic “growth” has proven to be detrimental to communities across the country. Widening the road through Richardson Grove would defile the spirit and unique character of the North Coast, a sanctuary that we cannot afford to lose.

In closing, we believe there are many reasons why the “Richardson Grove Improvement Project" is wrong. It is wrong to jeopardize the vitality of one of California's State Parks for purported economic gain. It is wrong to injure and risk what is left of the ancient redwood ecosystem. It is wrong to increase the vulnerability of our communities and landscape by subjecting us to the will of multi-national corporations. It is wrong to perpetuate the genocide of indigenous peoples by further degrading the Grove, a place of spiritual and cultural significance. Only employment initiatives which promote, not degrade, the health of Humboldt residents and the region's unique ecosystems should be explored. We implore you to act with us to help save Richardson Grove State Park and in the process, help preserve the unique cultural heritage, true wealth, and beauty found on the North Coast of California.


Richardson Grove Action Now
P.O. Box 5692
Eureka, CA 95502
(707) 602-7551

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