The plan to rejigger Highway 101 through Richardson Grove was handed a setback in federal court yesterday, and the wound seems to be a bit more serious than is being reported.
Judge William Alsup yesterday slapped a preliminary injuction on Caltrans at the request of the parties who brought suit against the department – a coalition of local individuals and environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center. The injuction doesn’t mean all that much on the surface – it stops Caltrans from proceeding with preparation for the project before the whole case is heard.
But one of the conditions of the injuction was that the judge must find that the plaintiffs are “… likely to succeed on the merits” when the thing goes to trial on Dec. 1. In his ruling, the judge writes that the plaintiffs easily cleared this bar by showing that the defendantsboard (probably) failed to adequately comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. (NEPA is the federal counterpart to the generally far more stringent California Environmental Quality Act. It comes into play here because federal highway funds would be used to finance the Richardson Grove project.)
So this is a strong signal that Caltrans’ case is weak. If it loses at trial this December, where does that leave the Richardson Grove Improvement Project? Where does that leave the effort to get STAA truck access up Highway 101 – a stated county public policy goal for at least a decade? It leaves it pretty much in nowheresville – or at least somewhere in the far distant future. Caltrans would either have to go back to the drawing board and do a full environmental impact statement for the project as it is written, and then fight this battle all over again. Or it could try to think up a way to accomplish the STAA goal but with even less environmental impact – unlikely in the extreme.
KHUM’s Mike Dronkers spoke with EPIC’s Gary Graham Hughes about the group’s court victory this morning:
Meanwhile, the Times-Standard reports that the FBI is apparently looking at the ad hoc “Richardson Grove Action Now” group, a direct action network that in time-honored fashion plays “bad cop” against the people battling the same project in the courtroom. RGAN!, it seems, sent a very nasty and threatening letter to firms that might bid for work in the Richardson Grove Project. One gets the sense that both the people of RGAN! and the FBI would both be delighted if “ecoterrorism” charges came out of this; the latter would get yet another hyped-up “terrorism” arrest, the former would achieve the type of notoriety and martyrdom they clearly long for.
But is there a case here? Yes, threats were made. Writes RGAN!:
“This could mean, in the event that you contract with Caltrans on project #01-464804 that people will stop your machines, block your passage, tie up your phone and fax lines, expose your identity as part of this egregious and illegal project to people all over disrupt your business, and generally, make it much more difficult than any job might otherwise be.”
But is that, in itself, illegal? Clearly it’s not illegal to threaten to lead a boycott against a company. When is a threat actionable and when is it not? The LoCO summons its legally-minded readers to illuminate this matter for us.