Willits, CA. Activists protesting the filling of some of California’s last remaining wetlands used steel tubes to lock themselves to a fill truck around 10:15 last night in the wick drain field one mile north of Willits on highway 101. A crowd of supporters gathered holding a banner that read: “Save Our Water, Stop Caltrans Now!”
Willits residents Earthworm, 18, and Feather were locked down for 8 and ½ hours to the immobilized truck, and another organizer, Ellen Faulkner, 74, was arrested by CHP. The action began a little after 10 pm on September 10.
All work came to a halt as some 20 trucks piled up behind Gate 6, the exit to the construction site where Caltrans is covering up thousands of wick drains with tons of fill, some of which may be contaminated with toxic materials. The massive project has drawn fierce criticism and persistent protests from a well-organized opposition who maintain the freeway is overbuilt, unnecessarily expensive and environmentally damaging.
Some Bypass opponents demand a two-lane, scaled down version of the bypass that would meet traffic needs while protecting precious wetlands and cost a fraction of the $300 million dollar, four-lane freeway proposed by Caltrans. Caltrans used false and misleading claims to exclude all consideration of 2-lane options. In addition, Caltrans failed to consider the effects of 55,000 thousand wick drains on the hydrology of the wetlands, according to Army Corp of Engineer’s letter of Aug. 16.
“We can still dramatically change the northern terminus of this project and protect a significant amount of wetlands. That’s why it’s so important that people take a stand and for the agencies to support us and demand that Caltrans shrink the project on the north end in the wetlands and riparian forest,” said Ellen Drell, board member of the Willits Environmental Center, one of two groups who filed suit on Aug.28 against Mendocino County for issuing a permit to haul fill without legally required environmental review under CEQA and the Surface Mining Act.
The County rescinded the permit, and hauling from the Mendocino Redwoods Products site stopped. Hauling resumed from a different site the following week. The possibly toxic material is being covered up before it can be tested by the State Water Board.
Regarding the lockdown, Drell said: “Young people are risking their lives for the future of the planet; the agencies could at least do their jobs by protecting the wetlands under their mandate.” The central mission of lead agency Army Corp of Engineers is to ensure “no net loss of wetlands”.