In a move characteristic of its legal tenacity, the Environmental Protection Information Center found a key witness who helped persuade a federal judge to temporarily halt Caltrans' plan to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park.
The decision by U.S. District Judge William Alsup to issue a preliminary injunction against the project last month hinged primarily on a 16-page analysis done by Joe McBride, a professor of forestry and landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. McBride got involved because Sharon Duggan, an Oakland-based attorney with EPIC, asked him earlier this year to serve as an expert witness.
After methodically measuring trees in the park, McBride concluded that soil disturbance from the construction project would injure the root systems of 108 trees, 37 of which would be greatly harmed or die; that the installation of culverts would damage seven ancient redwoods; and that the removal of 54 trees would diminish the health of the forest.
In his decision favoring EPIC and two other environmental groups, Alsup called McBride's analysis convincing.
"Exposing and cutting the roots of these trees makes them prone to infection and drying out," Alsup wrote, sounding not a little like McBride. "Weakening the roots of redwoods adjacent to the road affects the complex root structure of the entire grove. Caltrans cannot plant new redwoods to provide adequate relief. Some of the trees that are likely to be harmed are more than a thousand years old."
Alsup's ruling means the road widening will not begin next January as Caltrans had hoped. Instead, a hearing on the merits of the case has been scheduled for Dec. 1. In the meantime, the two sides are participating in court-mandated settlement conferences, the most recent of which took place last Friday in San Francisco.