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