SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge halted work on a highway project in Richardson Grove State Park, saying a trial is needed to determine whether the road widening work would harm a grove of ancient redwoods.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco issued his ruling late Wednesday, and set a trial date for Dec. 1.
The California Department of Transportation planned to begin work in late January to realign a one-mile section of Highway 101 that snakes through a stand of old redwood trees.
The agency has not proposed removing any of the ancient redwoods, but the plaintiffs argue the digging needed to widen the road will damage the roots of the towering old trees.
This stretch is the only part of Highway 101 from San Francisco to the Oregon border where the large Surface Transportation Assistance Act trucks — used to ferry goods around most of the nation — cannot fit without their rear wheels falling off the roadway.
Project proponents argue the highway widening will spur economic development in the area and help create jobs.
"We are disappointed but we continue to stand by the Richardson Grove Improvement Project. It is a small project that will remove a long-standing transportation restriction for the North Coast," said Julie East, a public information officer for Caltrans.
But a group of environmentalists and residents who have sued to stop the work argue it would damage the redwoods' roots, and open up the rural area to traffic, pollution and development.
"With less than 3 percent of our ancient redwood trees remaining, we cannot allow Caltrans to injure and kill the precious giants of Richardson Grove State Park," said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement.