A federal judge today ordered Caltrans to revise its environmental assessment for the Richardson Grove Improvement Project, effectively sending the project “back to the drawing board,” as the Environmental Protection Information Center put it in a press release.

The ruling from Judge William Alsop means that the project, which is intended to allow industry-standard trucks to enter Humboldt County from the south, will certainly be delayed while the agency redoes its documentation. However, the judge stopped short of requiring Caltrans to prepare a full environmental impact report for the project, ordering it only to correct for certain trees missing in the much less extensive “environmental assessment” that it had already prepared.

Read Alsop’s ruling here.

Press release from EPIC, one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit seeking to stop the project, follows:

Court Sends Richardson Grove Highway Expansion Back to Drawing Board

Controversial Highway Project Would Irreparably Damage Ancient Redwoods

SAN FRANCISCO— A federal judge today ordered Caltrans to redo critical aspects of its environmental analysis for a controversial project that would widen and realign Highway 101 through the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park in Humboldt County. Citing numerous errors in Caltrans’ mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco ordered Caltrans to correct its errors and prepare a detailed new analysis that considers potential harm to the roots of each individual redwood tree in the project’s path. A coalition of conservation groups and local community members filed a lawsuit in 2010 to halt the project.

“Despite the importance of Richardson Grove and the incredible public outcry against this project, Caltrans didn’t even accurately measure and map the ancient redwood trees that its misguided highway expansion proposal puts at risk,” said Gary Hughes of the Environmental Protection Information Center, a plaintiff group based in Humboldt County. “Thisunnecessary project would cause irreparable damage to one of our most prized state parks, the venerable old-growth grove and its wildlife, and also harm tourism and the coastal communities of Humboldt County. It’s time to scrap this project for good.”

The proposal to realign a section of Highway 101 that winds through old-growth redwoods in Richardson Grove State Park to accommodate large-truck travel would require extensive cutting into the roots of towering redwoods along the highway. Root loss would likely kill at least some of the majestic trees, and highway work would also harm endangered species like the marbled murrelet and Northern spotted owl. Caltrans’ proposed assault on Richardson Grove, the fabled “redwood curtain” at the entrance to rural Humboldt County, has been met with widespread opposition from local residents, business owners, conservation groups, American Indians and economists. Conservation groups secured a federal court injunction in July 2011 stopping the project from moving forward until the case could be heard.

“Less than 3 percent of our ancient redwood trees remain, yet Caltrans wants to cut through, injure and pave over the roots of giant redwoods in a state park for the sake of a few more oversized trucks speeding through the grove, and expects us to believe there won’t be any damage,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ll keep fighting until Caltrans drops this misguided project.”

“Caltrans must give us a clear and accurate description of how building a modern roadbed in Richardson Grove can harm precious and rare environmental resources that belong to us all,” said Patty Clary, Director of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. “That would be democracy in action. That’s what the court preserved in this ruling, the right of Americans to have these important decisions made in the light of day, not behind closed doors.”

Plaintiffs in the case are the Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Trisha Lee Lotus, Bess Bair, Bruce Edwards, Jeffrey Hedin and Loreen Eliason. Trisha Lotus is the great granddaughter of Henry Devoy, who transferred the redwood forest that became Richardson Grove State Park to California in 1922. The plaintiffs are represented by San Francisco attorney Stuart Gross, Oakland attorney Sharon Duggan, a team from San Francisco law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy that includes Philip Gregory and former congressman “Pete” McCloskey, and Kevin Bundy of the Center for Biological Diversity.