Friday, January 31, 2014
C.A. Says Caltrans Must Correct EIR for Route 101
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Department of Transportation will need to reassess the environmental impact of its proposed renovation to Route 101 into Humboldt County before moving forward, the First District Court of Appeal held yesterday.
Div. Three, in a partially published opinion by Justice Stuart R. Pollak, reversed a judgment denying Trisha L. Lotus’ petition for a writ of mandate, and held that Caltrans had failed to comply with California’s Environmental Quality Act requirements by improperly evaluating the impact to the redwood trees adjacent to its proposed roadway renovation.
Pollak ordered that Caltrans’ set aside its certification of its environmental impact report and assess the significance its project will have on the redwood trees before proposing mitigating techniques to minimize the impact.
“By compressing the analysis of impacts and mitigation measures into a single issue, the EIR disregards the requirements of CEQA.”
CEQA requires that an environmental impact report include a detailed statement of environmental impacts of a proposed project, and corresponding mitigation measures to each forecasted impact. Public Resources Code §21100(b), however, provides that impact minimization efforts should be set out “preferably in separate section or paragraph of the EIR,” from the forecasted impacts.
Richardson Grove State Park contains the first redwoods drivers see while driving north on Route 101 from San Francisco to Eureka. As the 101 passes through the park, the road narrows to a two-lane highway with tight curves among the trees.
The Surface and Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 prohibits industry-standard sized trucks from using this portion of highway, which runs into Humboldt County.
Caltrans proposed a project to “adjust the roadway alignment to accommodate truck travel…and improve safety and operation.” Caltrans explained that aligning this one-mile stretch of road will increase the profitability and competitive ability of businesses in Humboldt County by allowing easier transportation of goods.
Caltrans issued a Notice of Preparation for an environment impact report, released a draft of the report, and finally certified the report in 2008, approving the highway renovation project.
The report described “minor road adjustments” with the impact resulting of tree removal and potential damage to tree roots. The report estimated that construction excavation would occur within the structural root zone of 58 redwood trees.
The report also described “avoidance, minimization and/or mitigation measures [that were] incorporated into the project to…mitigate expected impacts.” Such measures would include, Caltrans said, the appointment of an arborist to monitor the construction, the use of pickaxes and shovels for construction close to root zones, and mechanical tools which are found to be safer for soil excavation.
The report concluded that, with the use of these special techniques for construction, no significant environmental impact would result.
“The failure of the EIR to separately identify and analyze the significant of the impacts to the root zones of old growth redwood trees before proposing mitigation measures is not merely a harmless procedural failing. Contrary to the trial court’s conclusion, this short-cutting of CEQA requirements subverts the purposes of CEQA.”
The purpose of separating the sections, Pollak explained, was to allow an assessment of each project’s impact, and its corresponding mitigating effort. Caltrans’ impact report contained information about the overall impact on the trees, but did not however, include any information about the significance of these impacts.
“Should CalTrans determine that a specific tree or group of trees will be significantly impacted by proposed roadwork, that finding would trigger the need to consider a range of specifically targeted mitigation measures, including analysis of whether the project itself could be modified to lessen the impact.”
The case is Lotus v. Department of Transportation, A137315.
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