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Bair v. California Department of Transportation

ELR Citation: 41 ELR 20242
Nos. C 10-04360 WHA, (N.D. Cal., 07/06/2011)

A district court preliminarily enjoined the California transportation agency's proposal to widen a highway that runs through old-growth redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park. Environmental groups challenged the project under NEPA, the Department of Transportation Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the APA and now seek a preliminary injunction to halt all activity on the project while the merits are litigated. The court granted their request. The type of harm the project threatens is undoubtedly irreparable. Exposing and cutting the roots of these trees makes them prone to infection and drying out. Weakening the roots of redwoods adjacent to the road affects the complex symbiotic root structure of the entire grove. And the agency cannot plant new redwoods to provide adequate relief, as some of the trees that are likely to be harmed are more than 1,000 years old. In addition, given that the agency issued a FONSI rather than preparing an EIS, the groups raised serious NEPA questions on the merits. And although an injunction would bring economic hardship, in balancing the equities, the scale tips sharply to the safety of the 3,000-year-old redwood trees. Similarly, the public interest is best served by letting the ancient trees thrive a little longer while the merits of their future are evaluated in court.