Caltrans Water-Wasting Highway Project Brings a Crowd to the Water Board

Jan. 30, 2014
For immediate release
Contact: Karen Pickett (925) 376-7329

Caltrans Water-Wasting Highway Project Brings a Crowd to the Water Board

 
Santa Rosa, CA—Citizens concerned about California’s unprecedented drought have zeroed in on Caltrans’ Willits Bypass highway project in Mendocino County, which is slated to fill in more wetlands than any such project since WWII. Opponents of the bypass project will converge on the January 30 meeting of the North Coast Water Quality Control Board (NCWQCB), taking place in Santa Rosa (5550 Skylane Blvd.) on that day.  At issue is a water supply crisis faced by the town of Willits and the massive water use by Caltrans for their nearby highway project, which broke ground in February of 2013.
Demands brought to the Water Board include that they direct NCWQCB staff  to issue a Cease and Desist order to Caltrans, due to the significant damage to the watershed where construction is occurring. Water Board staff has already expressed concern that the mitigation plan which is supposed to make up for the unprecedented loss of wetlands in the Willits Valley is unfunded, unstaffed and not in place as required by law.
In a Jan. 15, 2014 letter to District One Caltrans Director Charlie Fielder, NCWQCB executive officer Matthias St. John expressed that he is “very concerned” that a Mitigation and Monitoring Plan (MMP) that satisfies the Water agency’s requirements is not yet in place, and moreover, that the “majority of Project impacts have already occurred”…without “an MMP to inform the scope, nature and timing of the compensatory wetland mitigation.”  Since mitigation plan deadlines were already missed in 2013, the NCWQCB letter advises Caltrans that avoidance of “formal enforcement of past deadlines,” Caltrans must complete mitigation requirements prior to resumption of dumping of fill onto the wetlands. This letter can be sent upon request.
 During this first year of construction, there have been numerous permit violations, Migratory Bird Act violations, County code violations, and violations of deadlines set by the Army Corps of Engineers. A significant archeological and cultural site has been bulldozed and buried with fill dirt, which may contain toxic contaminants.
“The damage already done to our wetlands and groundwater is devastating”, said Willits resident Rosamond Crowder. “Caltrans has already used approximately eight million gallons of water, half of that pulled from local wells in an area where the water table is already severely compromised. Their mitigation plan is in shambles. Add this to the drought and we have a crisis facing our waters, our fish and ourselves.  It’s time to stop and take a step back.”
Gov. Jerry Brown in his “State of the State” address on Jan. 22, called for “serious groundwater management”, citing the need for “wetlands and watershed restoration,” due to the drought disaster that California is facing. Bypass opponents are calling on Brown’s office to back a plan that would scale back the northern (wetlands) end of the bypass project, which currently call for an immense I-5 style interchange on a two-lane road in a region with declining population and negligible long-distance traffic.
North Coast residents in favor of downsizing or halting the Bypass project point out that critical wetlands are being drained and buried for this highway project that most local residents regard as an unnecessary multi-million dollar boondoggle. At the very least, they say, the compromise plan offered by City Councilwoman Madge Strong—putting in place an already approved but smaller northern interchange–would save at least half the wetland area now being drained and millions of taxpayer dollars.
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