What a proposed trucking route will do to the trees and roots along U.S. Highways 197 and 199 is the main subject of an updated draft environmental report from Caltrans, published this week and open for public comment until Nov. 5.
The Safe STAA project would widen seven spots along Del Norte’s narrows, so that a broader class of commercial trucks can legally access Crescent City from Interstate 5 and vice versa.
Proponents have said this is an overdue improvement to meet 30-year-old federal standards, which could drive down local prices while making the roads safer for all who encounter the state-legal rigs already tracking through shoulderless curves. Critics have said the STAA project stands to increase commercial traffic, leading to more tragic accidents and the degradation of natural resources.
Two of the tight spots are on Highway 197, also known as North Bank Road, and home to old growth redwoods. This predominantly residential and recreational road along the lower Smith River was chosen to avoid diverting heavy-duty loads through Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, the report states.
The report concludes that no large old-growth redwoods would need to be cut for Highway 197 to get 2 feet wider at some spots, and that the project would not significantly impact tree root structures.
Some 137 Douglas firs would need to be cleared from the rocky hillsides where Highway 199 winds through the Middle Fork gorge of the Smith River around Patrick Creek. In all, an estimated 331 trees would need to be removed to complete the project.
As for the roots, the report asserts that the additional effects to trees aren’t significant under state or federal environmental laws, based on the findings of an arborist and a forester contracted by Caltrans.
The two scientists went out in the field with Caltrans crews at the end of 2011 and catalogued each tree, after public comments about the project as it was first proposed in 2010 prompted a second round of environmental assessment.
Project information and the latest environmental report will be available at www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1projects/197-199_staa/; at the Del Norte County Library, 9190 Price Mall, Crescent City; and at the Caltrans District 1 Office, 1656 Union Street, Eureka during the public review period of Sept. 18 to Nov. 5.
As summarized by Caltrans: “The document discusses why the project is being proposed, what alternatives have been considered for the project, how the existing environment could be affected by the project, the potential impacts of each of the alternatives, and the proposed avoidance, minimization, and/or mitigation measures.”
Written comments on this may be submitted to Caltrans, Attn: Jason Meyer, Environmental Coordinator, P.O. Box 3700, Eureka, CA, 95502.
Contact Meyer at 707-445-6322 for more information about the report, or Kevin Church, project manager, at 707-445-6440 for more information about the project.