Injunction Sought to halt Caltrans Impacts to Smith River


smith river

Injunction Sought to Halt Unnecessary Caltrans Highway-widening Project in Remote Northwest California

CRESCENT CITY, Calif.— Conservation groups filed for a preliminary injunction in federal court today to halt construction of a Caltrans highway-widening project that would harm threatened coho salmon runs and undermine public safety along the wild and scenic Smith River Canyon in California’s remote Del Norte County. The project is aimed at widening narrow sections of highways 197 and 199 to provide access for oversized trucks. The conservation groups had challenged Caltrans’ approval of the project in federal and state court last year, for its inadequate review of the environmental impacts.

“Caltrans would have us believe allowing oversize trucks to drive faster through the tight Smith River canyon will make this scenic highway safer, yet it will do the opposite,” said Don Gillespie with Friends of Del Norte. “We are challenging this project to protect motorist safety and defend our treasured Smith River.”

Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) seek to halt construction on the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project.” It would increase unsafe heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the designated “wild and scenic” Smith River Canyon, negatively impacting tourism and local residents. Construction would harm habitat for coho salmon runs that the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) has identified as facing a high risk of extinction and core to the recovery of the species as a whole.

“The Smith River is one of California’s natural wonders as the last major undammed river in the state,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director of EPIC. “Our rivers are under incredible stress due to drought – this destructive highway widening project would unnecessarily put the Smith River and its salmon habitat at risk.”

“We will not let Caltrans degrade the pristine and ecologically important Smith River for its ill-advised network of routes for oversized trucks through coastal northwestern California,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This type of major roadwork shouldn’t occur along these narrow, rural roads and critical salmon habitat.”

Caltrans’ approval of the project did not follow the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a full evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of a project and consideration of viable alternatives. Caltrans’ project approval also violated the Wild and Scenic River Act and the Department of Transportation Act. NMFS is named on the lawsuit for violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to properly analyze whether the project will jeopardize protected coho salmon or their habitat.

Caltrans did not properly evaluate the threat project construction poses to salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River or safety hazards from increased truck traffic. Caltrans refused to consider alternatives besides widening the highway, adopted unsubstantiated findings about impacts and mitigation measures, and avoided looking at the cumulative impacts of numerous associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access. NMFS ignored its own data, including dire warnings concerning the status of coho in the Smith River, and rubber-stamped the project without giving it anything close to a sufficient review.


Highway 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River Canyon that passes through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area. It provides access to Redwood national and state parks, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage sites in California. The Smith River is the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48. A 1989 Caltrans report acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.”

Highway 197 is a 7-mile, two-lane country road that runs north to south along the lower Smith River, just northeast of Crescent City. It is a rural-residential route with 72 driveways directly entering onto the road. In order to avoid Jedediah Smith State Park at the western edge of the project, oversized trucks would divert off Highway 199 and travel along Highway 197 to the north of Crescent City to reach Highway 101.

Court challenges to the related Caltrans project through Richardson Grove on Highway 101 in Humboldt County have resulted in rulings determining that Caltrans failed to adequately analyze the potential impacts of highway development on the ancient redwoods protected in Richardson Grove State Park.

A recently released independent review of Caltrans called for sweeping reforms of the agency and cited a “culture of fear” within Caltrans when it comes to deviating from standard policies. The statewide Caltrans Watch coalition has highlighted the agency’s pervasive refusal to consider reasonable alternatives to massive highway projects, shoddy environmental review, lack of transparency, reliance on flawed data and disregard for public input.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Stuart Gross and Sharon Duggan, and the nationally recognized firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

Press Release from Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Del Norte and EPIC

Friends of Del Norte (707) 954-1634, Don Gillespie

Center for Biological Diversity (510) 499-9185, Jeff Miller

EPIC (707) 223-5434, Gary Hughes,


15 thoughts on “Injunction Sought to halt Caltrans Impacts to Smith River

  1. Perhaps I am indulging my fondness for giving opinions on things I have absolutely no understanding….

    And certainly I have none here. I just know that:

    (A): The government, no matter what its form should follow the same rules as the rest of us, at least concerning the environment.

    (2): Not every road needs (nor should) be a four lane freeway or even a fully developed two lane road.

    It’s one thing to argue that 101, the main route of communication through our region, should be put to the “max” standard; it is another to pick roads like 197/199 for the same treatment. The “need” is just not the same.

    I can’t help but think the costs out-weigh the benefits here. No doubt others will have different thoughts on this subject. Perhaps (perish the thought) I might even be wrong.


  2. A classic example of why opinions are basically worthless. I’ve driven big trucks on those highways and I can tell you for a fact that those areas are a danger to and endanger the truck and other motorists. Caltrans is right on this one. They just should have done it years ago.


  3. And Mr. Blow’s opinions are less “worthless” because….??


  4. What I said is hardly an opinion, moron. Crap, I replied to an worthless, irrelevant “anonymous.” They couldn’t learn the difference if they tried.


  5. Oh, EPIC and CBD is involved with this? Yawn…………..


  6. Joe Blow (Especially 10:17):

    I guess I should have responded earlier. Since you said you were a professional driver on the road in question I was willing to accept what you had to say without comment. But…

    Point One: Environmental laws exist due to tragic experience. Some of the worst experiences seem to happen when one government agency or another decide they are above such restrictions.

    Point Two: I’m sorry you had to drive on a crappy road. Perhaps you should have not been on a road you yourself say was not adequate to the type of driving you did there.

    Point Three: It is pointless to turn every country road into a STAA approved road. It is appropriate in many situations but possibly not in this one. There are other ways to go from the interior to the coast. Yes, they may be longer routes and take more time. That’s just the way the tire bounces.

    Point Four: Why get angry, really? It raises your blood pressure and adds no force to your argument.

    Talk to me (and others) in a less hostile tone and you might find folks more likely to agree with you.


  7. Just because I have a different experience from you doesn’t make me angry. Keep your worthless opinions to yourself, and we’ll all get along. I don’t need someone who believes their god’s gift to mankind lecturing me on things you’re totally clueless about. Frankly I don’t give a rat’s ass WHO agrees with me. Life is not a popularity contest – not when your life is on the line. By the way, you ever drive those highways? Don’t lie.


  8. Funny, when I occasionally slip and call someone a Moron it usually isn’t a sign of affection. Perhaps it is just your writing style.

    I let you go by without comment until you became abusive. Fault yourself for that one.

    No I certainly am not God’s gift to anything (ask my dogs). But I do have the same right to talk on a blog as you do.

    However I do care to keep the record straight. In this case, in my reply to you it should be noted that points 1, 2, and 4 are not opinions but facts. Only point 3 is an opinion.

    I have driven 197/199 (never with a big rig) but that neither qualifies nor disqualifies me for having a valid view point. I gave your opinion extra weight because it was based on your own experience. But sometimes experience causes a person to be too emotional to think about an issue objectively.

    Don’t agree with me if that suits you. It doesn’t matter. But don’t call people names in a futile attempt to shore up a weak argument and we’ll get along just fine (not that you care).

    After all, what tells me you have a weak argument in the first place is the fact you felt you needed to resort to the name calling.


  9. Worthless opinions are not valid viewpoints or facts. You are a wannabe demi-god when you can tell people how to live, think and believe. When someone calls me a hypocrite they open themselves up for being exposed for what they are and so do you when you enforce a double-standard. When you can’t distinguish fact from fiction – worthless opinions – that’s moronic.


  10. Joe Blow (12:53):

    Have it your way.

    When did I call you a hypocrite? I just looked over the record and I don’t see it. Not that it matters.

    Well, I have other Demi-Godlike matters to take care of so I’ll be on my way.


  11. This should preface EVERYTHING MOLA says, and I quote:

    “Perhaps I am indulging my fondness for giving opinions on things I have absolutely no understanding….”


  12. yoDa 8:55:

    I’ll leave that job for you to do then. Are you ready to put in the long hours it would take?

    Thanks for your contribution to the discussion.


  13. You have NO contribution to make, MOLA, you admit it yourself, having absolutely no understanding of this issue.


  14. And THAT is my contribution to this thread. Takes minimal time, no long hours required to point out that your opinions here are worthless, because again, you ” have absolutely no understanding….”

    So here’s a thought, stick to issues you at least have a bit of understanding of.


  15. yoDa:

    Gosh I really yanked your chain somehow. I wish I knew how I did it; sounds like it could be useful somehow.

    I don’t think the Muppet’s would appreciate you using the name of one of their own for this kind of thing. But I could be wrong (I added that last part to make you feel better).

    Good night.


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