Judge Sides with Tree Huggers Over Highway-Widening Project

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There are some trees you don't want to mess with
The California Department of Transportation must reassess how its planned road-expansion project along Highway 101 could truly harm the surrounding redwood trees, a judge ruled.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit last week in San Francisco, hoping to stop Caltrans from widening the two-lane highway through Richardson Grove State Park, which currently prohibits big-rig access. The park is filled with many millennia-old redwood trees, some over 300 feet tall.

Excessive tree growth, which has cut the road to only 22 feet wide in some areas, has forced San Francisco trucks bound for Eureka to take a 446-mile detour -- and that's exactly why Caltrans wants to quickly widen the highway. However, such a project could have a negative affect on the majestic redwoods, but we wouldn't know, because Caltrans has done a shoddy job of determining those impacts, according to U.S. District Judge William Aslup.

The Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics claim Caltrans used inaccurate maps and tree dimensions in order to dodge putting together a costly and time-consuming environmental impact statement. Instead, environmentalists -- and the judge -- say Caltrans only did a mild assessment, concluding the project would create a "no significant" impact to the trees.

"Here, there are a number of discrepancies and omissions that raise serious questions about whether Caltrans truly took a 'hard look' at the effects of the project and made an informed decision," Alsup wrote.

Caltrans has now been ordered to organize accurate maps that identify, number, and calculate the root zones and establish environmental issues for each tree. If the revised assessments find that impacts are in fact significant, Caltrans will have to commission a full environmental impact report, the judge ruled.

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