Judge orders more study of highway project's impact on farmland
» August 1, 2011 «
Additional planning will be required to minimize impacts on farmland and the environment from a proposed Yolo County highway project, as the result of a court ruling released late last week.
The ruling by a Sacramento County Superior Court judge came in response to a lawsuit against the California Department of Transportation, filed by the Yolo County Farm Bureau in partnership with the Capay Valley Coalition. The judge ordered Caltrans to revise its environmental impact report on the proposed project.
The project involves a 13-mile stretch of Highway 16, west of Interstate 505. The two-lane road passes through the agricultural communities of Capay, Esparto, Madison and Brooks, and is frequently used by slow-moving farm equipment and growers moving products to market, as well as travelers going to and from the nearby Cache Creek Casino. Caltrans said it plans to widen the road and create turn lane areas for safety, as well as raise portions of the road to avoid flooding.
In its lawsuit, Farm Bureau said Caltrans had failed to analyze adequately the project's impact on agriculture. It noted that raising the road, for example, would create steep embankments up to eight feet high, making it unlikely that farm equipment could safely enter the highway. In addition, widening the road and creating a 20-foot "clear recovery zone" would require converting 166 acres of farmland.
"We simply want thorough research conducted and plans made that take into account the important role farming and ranching has in Yolo County," said Chuck Dudley, president of the Yolo County Farm Bureau. "This ruling supports our belief that there are additional steps Caltrans can take that are necessary and more positive for all residents in the area. Caltrans did not do its homework on this project and it failed to listen to the residents of Yolo County affected by the project."
The California Farm Bureau Federation originally filed the suit on behalf of the Yolo County Farm Bureau in January 2010.
"The project's environmental analysis was incomplete and did not include the necessary review of impacts to nearby agriculture," said Kari Fisher, CFBF associate counsel. "While we support road upgrades and adding features for safety, projects must take into account the negative effects on farms and ranches, and find solutions for those problems."
In his ruling, Judge Michael P. Kenny agreed with the Farm Bureau assertion that the highway project description was vague and did not adequately describe the roadway elevation changes that Caltrans planned, to raise the highway above a level of flood expected every 100 years.
"Not until they filed their Supplemental Brief did [Caltrans] finally reveal that their engineering experts concluded that 8 feet would be the maximum additional height [Highway 16] would need to be raised in order to elevate the roadbed out of the 100-year plain," Kenny wrote. "This failure prevented the public from meaningfully understanding the issues raised by the Project."
During public meetings held to address residents' concerns, 97 comments were provided to the project's representatives, and the judge noted that Caltrans did not sufficiently address many of the comments, nor did the agency adequately provide alternatives that did not involve widening or raising the roadway.
"Such an approach substantially undermines a true consideration of alternatives," Kenny wrote in ordering Caltrans to conduct additional review of the Highway 16 project.
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of approximately 76,500 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 6.3 million Farm Bureau members.
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.Top