Environmentalists Respond to Willits Bypass Deal Brokered by Huffman, Thompson between Caltrans and the Army Corps of Engineers

 

Willits, CA — A coalition of environmental groups and Native Americans responded to the July 10th  deal Congressman Huffman helped broker between the Army Corps of Engineers and Caltrans, in a letter of their own on July 15th. The deal allows the conditional reinstatement of the key Federal Clean Water Act section 404 permit, needed to resume operations on the ever-controversial Willits bypass.

The project, criticized for its size, cultural and environmental impacts, cost  and lack of need, was shut down June 20 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, for failing to meet mitigation requirements to compensate for the loss of wetland and woodland values during the almost two years of construction. The 404 permit was predicated on completion of environmental work concurrent with construction, but Caltrans’ schedule had fallen so far behind it was in “serious violation” of the permit conditions.

Citing provision # 4 in the new agreement as a “bright spot” in the post suspension picture, spokesperson Naomi Wagner noted that: “Caltrans has agreed ‘to evaluate the project to determine if any reduction in any amount of fill is possible’. The Coalition is advocating reduced fill and a smaller roundabout design.

Ellen Drell of the Willits Environmental Center and long-time bypass opponent, said: “Despite murky details and watered down requirements in the brokered agreement between ACE and Caltrans, we are encouraged by Caltrans’ commitment to perform this evaluation by Oct. 1, or sooner. We would assume this means there will be no placement of additional fill until the evaluation is complete, since to evaluate for a reduction in fill while simultaneously placing more fill would be a clear conflict, negating the possibility of meaningful reductions.”

The Coalition says reducing fill would reduce requirements for the extent, time and cost of the current large mitigation plan as well as avoiding further damage to extensive archeological sites and functioning wetlands. It has suggested an option to modify the northern interchange which would, if implemented, accomplish a great deal of reduction in impact and costs. The group is ready to assist in overcoming any perceived obstacles to this common-sense solution.

To that end, the Coalition has been requesting a face to face meeting between themselves and other key parties for the past year, and is again requesting Congressman Huffman’s help in facilitating such a meeting.

“We believe this evaluation process can be expedited and will greatly benefit from the public input and documented information the Coalition has gained over years of research and citizen involvement”, said Drell.

Read Madge Strong’s Letter: Huffman 6-13-14 – rebuttal to Caltrans

Read SOLLV’s letter to Huffman 7-15-14 here

 

Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Request For Consultation With Army Corps of Engineers

coyote-valley-tribeJuly 10, 2014

To: Jane M. Hicks Chief Regulatory Division U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco District 1455 Market Street, 16th Floor San Francisco, CA 94103

From: Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians

Re: Willits Bypass Destruction of Cultural Sites and REQUEST FOR GOVERNMENT TO GOVERNMENT CONSULTATIONS Regarding: Caltrans’ Non Compliance with General Section 3 of the permit issued by the Army Corps for Caltrans’ construction of the project and request for amendments in the conditional suspension of the Section 404 Permit to protect any further destruction of known ancestral archeological sites.

By letter of May 28, 2014 the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, whose members are lineal descendants of the Little Lake Pomo, brought to your attention grossly negligent if not intentional destruction of ancestral village/archaeological sites in the project area of the Willits Bypass, we asked that you apply in writing to our concerns. We have not heard back from you to date. We also noted in the recent permit suspension that the concerns that were addressed were natural resource mitigation failures and there was no mention of what would appear to be Caltrans’ failure to abide by General Condition 3 of the permit pertaining to the protection of culturally significant Native American ancestral archaeological sites. Continue reading

Willits City Council Member Madge Strong’s Letter to Army Corps, Huffman

strongmadgeBelow is a brief letter addressed to US Army Corps Lt. Colonel Morrow and Congressman Jared Huffman, written by Willits City Council Member Madge Strong on July 1st.  Strong’s letter offers political solutions to the Bypass permit suspension that would have provided actual protection to the Little Lake Valley ecosystems and cultural sites impacted or destroyed by the Bypass, as opposed to those the Army Corps has just signed off on.

Dear Sirs:

Thank you for upholding the laws, holding Caltrans accountable for their promises (and their misrepresentations), and for protecting the environment and Native American heritage of Little Lake Valley.

Suspending the 404 Permit is completely justified in view of the delays and failures in Caltrans’ implementation of mitigation for the damage they’ve already done.

That said, I understand the frustration of Caltrans, the contractor and workers, and citizens of our community who would like to see the Bypass completed without undue delays and added costs. Fortunately, there is a solution that benefits everyone!

At the northern terminus of this 6-mile bypass, only about one-tenth of the fill has been placed so far. By eliminating the planned, over-sized I-5 style northern interchange, some 30 acres of wetlands could be restored to their natural state at the sensitive convergence of several streams feeding Outlet Creek into the Eel River. This scaling back of Phase 1 of the project is still more than adequate to handle projected traffic and connect the 2-lane bypass to existing Highway 101, while not precluding the (unlikely) possibility of a future Phase 2 expansion to 4 lanes.  Continue reading

Army Corps Caves; Bypass to Resume

"Little Lake earlier this year, before Caltrans Bypass construction started there. Pictured is a cinnamon teal, a federally protected species of migratory bird.  Little Lake is historically an important part of the Pacific Flyway, considered one of the main bird migration routes in the Western Hemisphere.

Quail Meadows last year, before Caltrans Bypass construction started there. CalTrans can now move forward with filling in this wetlands, under the guise they are creating wetlands elsewhere, the US Army Corps of Engineers says.

We knew it would happen at some point. Unfortunately, it came without a serious consideration of downsizing the project.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to allow CalTrans to resume full construction of the Willits Bypass.  The decision came after a series of negotiating sessions between the two agencies that also involved at least two powerful elected officials.

Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) played a key role in making the agreement happen.  His office released a statement today concerning the Bypass.

“I have personally met with and had multiple phone calls with officials from both agencies, and today I convened an emergency conference call that included the key leaders from both agencies as well as my predecessor and colleague, Representative Thompson,” Huffman’s statement reads, in part.

In interactions with SOLLV members, Congressman Huffman has expressed interest in helping to reduce the environmental harm wrought by the Bypass.  In the eyes of many SOLLV members, Huffman has shown his true colors. Continue reading

More Calls and Letters, Please

huffmanjared_041614gnIn the last 18 months, we in SOLLV have put out a number of calls to supporters to make calls and send letters to elected and regulatory officials.  We have no doubt that those calls and letters have played a key role in the suspension of the Bypass construction.

All of our forms of opposition to the Bypass have combined to create political conditions in which the Army Corps, Congressman Jared Huffman, and others are empowered to go against Caltrans and its. powerful supporters.

We all know the suspension only buys us time. So let’s keep the pressure on!

Please let elected and regulator officials (and the other listed below) know that you SUPPORT the Army Corps of Engineers’ pulling of the (section 404) permit for Willits Bypass construction.  Tell them know that you wish to see the wetlands, our life support system, and the Indigenous Cultural Sites protected from further devastation by Caltrans Willits Bypass as currently designed.

Please contact the following individuals: Continue reading

Willits Bypass Totally Suspended

July2014ViaductIn the latest good news for Little Lake Valley, its residents, its farmers, its watershed, and its non-human critters, CalTrans has announced a complete stoppage of work on the Willits Bypass.  “Caltrans has notified our contractors that we intend to suspend work effective July 8 at the end of the day’s work until the Corps’ permit suspension is lifted,” the Willits Bypass Project News web site reads.

Initially, the Army Corps of Engineers’ suspension of the Clean Water Act permit that authorized the project meant that CalTrans could continue work in select areas of the project, including the southern interchange.
According to CalTrans, however, the cost “to keep contractor crews on standby and other delay costs have added an estimated $800,000 to the Willits Bypass Project from June 20 through July 7, and are accumulating at about $100,000 per day.”

Moreover, the Willits Bypass Project News site (which was originally set up in March 2013 to counter the momentum of the CalTrans Bypass opposition) reports, “This was not an easy decision, but with the mounting costs and uncertainty from the Corps of when they might lift the suspension, Caltrans had to reduce the escalating costs to taxpayers.”

This decision is a strong indication that negotiations between CalTrans and the Army Corps are not going well for CalTrans.  The permit suspension order has relatively strong teeth, and it may take a long time for CalTrans to meet its conditions (if they ever do). Continue reading

500-Mile American Indian Movement Spirit Run Culminates in Willits

MorningStarphotoThe 36th annual American Indian Movement 500-Mile Spiritual Marathon culminated this past Thursday, June 26th in a ceremony at Willits City Park.  Roughly 250 people joined 25-30 spirit runners for  prayers, speeches, and songs, and a trip down Main St.

It was one of the largest gatherings we have had so far in the campaign to protect Little Lake Valley from the CalTrans Bypass.  A feeling of momentum and victory was in the air due to the Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to suspend any construction of the Bypass that will harm wetlands and creeks.

Spirit Runners line up at Evergreen Shopping Center.

Spirit Runners line up at Evergreen Shopping Center.

The runners and many supporters gathered at noon at Evergreen Shopping Center.  Spirit Runners and Save Our Little Lake Valley members mingled, exchanging gratitude and information with one another.  AIM Spiritual Advisor Fred Short addressed the roughly 100 people who were on hand by then, describing how the day would proceed. Continue reading