Caltrans Bypass Battle in Willits Heats Up As Activists Sit Down to Block Equipment

16 March 2013

Willits, CA-Local residents say Caltrans tried to bulldoze their way through Federal and State regulations again in what has become a running battle over the planned Bypass highway around Willits in Mendocino County. Activists sat down in front of moving equipment and called Cal-tip to report violations of the International Migratory Bird Act after bird nests were found. This was the third time activists have blocked equipment since Jan. 28, when a tree sitter named Warbler Warblerwent aloft in a tall ponderosa pine at the southern end of the proposed construction site on Hwy. 101 just outside Willits to protest Caltrans’ Bypass.

At issue is protocol regarding required surveys for nesting birds in compliance with the Migratory Bird Act and a “jurisdictional wetland” damaged when Caltrans workers drove an excavator into the boggy area and it became stuck.
 
When Caltrans arrived at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, they were accompanied by Arrow Fencing Company and their consulting biologists, who walked ahead of the noisy machine in case nests were again found in its path. Caltrans and Arrow Fencing employees on site claimed they had been told they could proceed by Joann Dunn, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (DFW) regional liaison to Caltrans. No proof was available that revised protocols for the bird surveys required before starting construction had been approved by DFW.
 
Reached by phone, DFW Joann Dunn said she had not seen the protocols but that the Department had agreed Caltrans could continue fencing in the previously disturbed area, despite being under an “active investigation”. Last week it was revealed that Caltrans did not have the approved protocols from DFW needed prior to performing bird surveys.  State DFW ordered Caltrans to submit revised protocols and do new bird surveys.
 Excavator tracks flat jurisdictional wetlands
The Bypass would raise a  thirty-foot high earthen wall on either end of the small northern California town, connected by an elevated two-lane, high-speed viaduct spanning the Little Lake Valley. Sensitive wetlands and Coho salmon in the two longest tributaries to the Eel River would be severely impacted.  Moreover, safety concerns about the viaduct, which has no exits, have been raised repeatedly. Caltrans’ EIR says the safety standards will be met in Phase II of the plan, which opponents suspect may never be funded, leaving them with a statistically predictable higher rate of serious and fatal accidents.
 
State Senator Noreen Evans last week sent a letter to Caltrans with some “pointed questions” about Caltrans’ design plans after her aide visited the site and met with those opposed to the Caltrans’ Bypass, according to the Willits News.  That letter can be found on the Willits News site at https://www.facebook.com/WillitsWeekly/posts/493170500739029.
 
During the sit-down blockade, activist Jaime Chevalier said, “We told Caltrans we’d leave if they’d stop all work and sit down and talk with Senator Noreen Evans.”