Lawsuit Filed to Protect Wild and Scenic Smith River From Destructive Caltrans Highway-widening Project

CRESCENT CITY, Calif.— Conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) highway-widening project that threatens endangered salmon runs, ancient redwoods and public safety along the wild and scenic Smith River Canyon in California’s remote Del Norte County. Caltrans approved a project to widen narrow sections of Highways 197 and 199 to provide access for oversized trucks without adequate review of the impacts. The groups had filed suit in state court in May for inadequate environmental review under state laws.

“Caltrans would have us believe allowing oversize trucks to drive faster through the tight Smith River canyon will make this scenic highway safer, yet it will do the opposite,” said Don Gillespie with Friends of Del Norte. “We are challenging this project to protect motorist safety and defend our treasured Smith River.”

Friends of Del Norte, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) are challenging the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project.” It would increase unsafe heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the designated “wild and scenic” Smith River Canyon, increasing the likelihood of deadly accidents and toxic spills, especially during dangerous winter conditions. The project would harm old-growth trees and habitat for protected salmon runs, as well as harm tourism and local residents.

“The Smith River is one of California’s natural wonders and the last major undammed river in California,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director of EPIC. “At a time when our river systems are under incredible stress, the Smith River is an oasis for humans and fish alike. The river corridor and coho spawning grounds deserve full protection from unnecessary and destructive highway development.”

“Caltrans is trying to sacrifice the pristine and ecologically important Smith River for its ill-advised network of routes for oversized trucks through coastal Northwestern California,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This type of major roadwork is inappropriate along these narrow, rural roads and critical salmon habitat.”

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires public evaluation and disclosure of environmental impacts, consideration of reasonable alternatives with less damaging impacts, and development of mitigation measures to minimize environmental harm. Caltrans’ approval of the project violates several federal laws, including NEPA, the Magnuson-Stevens Act protecting “essential fish habitat,” the Wild and Scenic River Act and the Department of Transportation Act. The lawsuit also charges the National Marine Fisheries Service with failing to determine whether the project will jeopardize protected coho salmon and green sturgeon, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Caltrans failed to properly evaluate threats to salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River and safety hazards from increased truck traffic. Caltrans refused to consider alternatives besides highway widening and adopted unsubstantiated findings about impacts and mitigation measures. The agency avoided looking at the cumulative impacts of numerous associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access.

Background

Highway 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River canyon, through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area. It provides access to Redwood National and State Parks, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage sites in California, and the Smith River — the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48. A 1989 Caltrans report acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.”

Highway 197 is a 5-mile long, two-lane country road that runs north to south along the lower Smith River, and just east of Crescent City. It is a rural-residential route with 72 driveways directly entering onto the road. In order to avoid Jedediah Smith State Park at the western edge of the project, oversized trucks would divert off Highway 199 and travel along Highway 197 to the north of Crescent City to reach Highway 101.

This project would facilitate a growth in truck traffic that will degrade the safety and quality of life of residents. Routing oversized trucks to these roadways during winter, when Interstate 5 can be closed by snow and ice, will pose significant threats to motorist and bicyclist safety. Caltrans is ignoring its own safety guidelines for the project and did not adequately assess these impacts in the environmental documentation.

A statewide coalition of conservation organizations is challenging irresponsible and damaging highway-widening projects around the state by Caltrans, and calling attention to the agency’s pervasive refusal to consider reasonable alternatives to massive highway projects, shoddy environmental review, lack of transparency, reliance on flawed data and disregard for public input. On the North Coast of California EPIC works to Rein in Caltrans, and supports the statewide Caltrans Watch coalition, which aims to put the brakes on Caltrans’ wasteful spending, institutionalized disregard of environmental regulations designed to protect natural resources, and pattern of refusal to address local concerns.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys Stuart Gross and Sharon Duggan, and the nationally recognized firm of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.

2013-09-23-FRIENDS OF DEL NORTE COMPLAINT – ECF1

EPIC Caltrans Smith River PR FINAL

Posted in 197/199 Smith River Project, Rein In Caltrans | Comments Off

EPIC Supports Economic Connectivity

Connectivity is one of the most important concepts related to the development of both effective conservation and viable long-term economic strategies. Over the course of our evolution as a public interest conservation advocacy organization, EPIC has worked hard to protect core natural areas, and to secure biological connectivity across the Northwest California landscape. With more than 35 years of experience in North Coast land management decision-making processes, EPIC has learned many lessons about how to successfully steer state and federal agencies, as well as large private landowners and rural residential communities, toward a landscape-scale vision for the stewardship of our forests and watersheds. What EPIC has also done over the years, and what receives less attention, is identify important opportunities to support economic development while still respecting the sensitive environments that make our region unique and a desirable place to live, work, and raise our children.

Over the course of the last several years the Northwest California region has been host to a contentious series of large-scale highway expansion projects promoted by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). At the same time, a parallel controversy has evolved around the persistence of certain economic interests in promoting what would prove to be very expensive and natural resource-damaging train transportation infrastructure to Humboldt Bay. As this debate goes forward, the current discourse concerning regional transportation needs fails to root itself in reality by ignoring critical infrastructure construction already underway. EPIC, based on the North Coast, and working through the five counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, Trinity, Humboldt and Mendocino counties, has taken a very public role in questioning and challenging the purpose and need, as well as the design and quality of environmental review, of several Caltrans highway expansion projects, most notably the Richardson Grove Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) project, the Willits Bypass project, and the Highway 197/199 STAA access project in the Smith River Canyon of Del Norte County. Though these Caltrans projects have resulted in high-profile lawsuits and textbook instances of environmental conflict, one of the largest and most important transportation infrastructure projects for our region is currently under construction, and is facing no opposition from our organization — and it is still largely ignored in the current debate about economic connectivity and future rail or highway development in our region.

The Buckhorn Summit project on Highway 299 is a highway-widening project intended to facilitate access between Interstate 5 and the North Coast of the largest trucks on the road today — the STAA supersized cab trucks that are so common on the national interstate highway system. EPIC has monitored and tracked the $60 million Buckhorn grade projects, just as our organization has monitored and tracked the other STAA access projects at Richardson Grove and on the Smith River. Though we have insisted in numerous comment letters and legal briefings that all the evidence proves that Caltrans must analyze the cumulative impact of their STAA highway widening projects on Highway 101, Highway 199, and Highway 299, the agency has refused to fulfill their obligation. Regardless of that failure on the part of the largest road building agency in the world to accurately and honestly disclose to the North Coast public the cumulative impacts of this region wide highway expansion project, EPIC has stood completely out of the way on the Buckhorn Summit projects.

The Buckhorn Summit projects are not without their environmental impacts — over the course of project implementation more than 2,000,000 cubic yards of earth will be moved to straighten and widen the well-known stretch of curves on Highway 299 right at the western border of Shasta County. This is no small project — but EPIC has strategically stayed out of the way of that project as a demonstration of our understanding of the importance of supporting connectivity for economic interests in Humboldt County that desire big STAA truck service for the North Coast. There is no question that the fastest most direct route for goods from the North Coast to national markets is the direct line out Highway 299 to Interstate 5 and all points north, east, and south.

The bottom line about these transportation issues is that EPIC is aware of and supporting economic connectivity, while standing true to our mission and defending the unique natural qualities of our bioregion from unnecessary, damaging, and wasteful infrastructure development projects in some of the most special places remaining to us on the North Coast, and indeed, our planet.

This article was originally published as a My Word opinion piece in the Eureka Times-Standard.

Posted in Rein In Caltrans | Comments Off

Richardson Grove Update-State Appeal Filed-Willits Protests Continue

Greetings … lots happening on the CALTRANS front but thankfully for Richardson Grove, the Federal Court injunction is still in effect and it appears that CALTRANS has for the moment turned its attention elsewhere.

You may remember that two lawsuits were filed to protect Richardson Grove, one in Federal Court and one in State Court.  Thanks to an astute Federal Judge we received the injunction that has stopped the project for now. We were not so lucky in State Court.  However, our brilliant enviro-attorneys have filed for an Appeal and attached is our Opening Appeal Brief (warning-it’s 80 pages long.)

But CALTRANS never sleeps -  with 19,000 employees and an operating budget of $12 Billion dollars they must keep busy.  Currently, along with their armed force the CHP, they are laying siege to Willits, 60 miles south of Richardson Grove where they are building a hideously expensive destructive $300 million bypass around the town of Willits to correct a traffic problem they themselves created by re-striping Highway 101 down to one lane at the intersection of Highway 101 and Highway 20.  Believe it or not, the bypass will NOT correct this problem so, adding insult to injury, they have just received an additional grant of millions of dollars of transportation bond funds for ANOTHER project to fix the intersection next year!!

Currently they are dewatering the wetlands of the Little Lake Valley east of Willits so that fill can be brought in and compacted to prepare the roadbed.  But a determined resistance has been built amongst the citizenry called Save our Little Lake Valley (SOLLV.) Today, members of SOLLV and supporters including members of Earth First of Humboldt helped to shut down work on the project using non-violent civil disobedience.

Here is a link to an article with video by ABC news of a similar action that took place recently.  The article also has additional links for more background:
<http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/assignment_7&id=9137120>

SOLLV has more actions planned.  If you would like to receive action alerts please see the SOLLV website at:
<http://savelittlelakevalley.org>
You can also help by making a donation. Instructions can be found on the website.

Other ways to help are to continue to write letters to the editor of your local news media and to your elected representatives.  As a result of their disastrous mismanagement of the Bay Bridge, CALTRANS is now the subject of an independent study by a group called the “State Smart Transportation Initiative.”  Let’s keep the heat on this monster bureaucracy that is bleeding the taxpayers dry!  Think of what all this money could do to help our schools.  Why is this waste being tolerated?

Feel free to send your thoughts by email and thank you for keeping informed.  Regards, Barbara Kennedy

Posted in Richardson Grove, Willits ByPass | Comments Off

Suit Filed Against Destructive Caltrans Highway-widening Project in Remote Del Norte County

Caltrans Oblivious to Public-safety Concerns, Rare Ecological Values Along Scenic Smith River Canyon

Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today challenging a California Department of Transportation highway-widening project that threatens ancient redwoods, endangered salmon runs and public safety along the wild and scenic Smith River Canyon in remote Del Norte County. Caltrans approved a project to widen existing narrow sections of highways 197 and 199 to provide access for oversized trucks, without adequate environmental review of the impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“For more than five years our organization has been identifying water quality and safety issues with this ill conceived project,” said Don Gillespie of the local conservation organization Friends of Del Norte, “but our comments have fallen on deaf ears. It is really a sign of Caltrans intransigence that public interest organizations have to resort to the courts to protect motorist safety and our treasured Smith River.”

Friends of Del Norte, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) filed suit in state court challenging the $26 million “197/199 Safe STAA Access Project.” The project would increase unsafe heavy and oversized truck use on narrow roadways along the designated “wild and scenic” Smith River Canyon, increasing the likelihood of deadly accidents and toxic spills, especially in dangerous winter conditions. The project would harm old-growth trees and habitat for protected salmon runs and hurt tourism and local residents.

“The North Coast has been under assault by massive Caltrans projects that the agency refuses to examine for their cumulative impacts on local communities and sensitive environments,” said Gary Graham Hughes, executive director of EPIC. “For Caltrans to barge ahead with this huge project on the precious Smith River after the explosion of controversy around the Willits Bypass project in Mendocino County shows that the agency is completely oblivious to concerns of North Coast residents.”

“Another bad idea by Caltrans, trying to jam an unnecessarily wide highway into a narrow canyon despite the impacts,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Public distrust of Caltrans is at an all-time high with revelations of Caltrans quality-control issues on the new Bay Bridge, conflict over the massive Willits Bypass project, the need for court and federal intervention to resolve Caltrans problems with the Niles Canyon project, and the agency’s proposal to needlessly vandalize the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park.”

Caltrans seeks to widen highways 197 and 199 at seven different locations, including major realignment and reconstruction of a bridge at one of the most sensitive sites along the pristine Smith River. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, all the environmental impacts of a project must be publicly disclosed and evaluated, reasonable alternatives with less damaging impacts must be considered, and mitigation measures must be developed to minimize environmental harm.

Caltrans has failed to take into account threats to salmon habitat and water quality along the Smith River, as well as increased safety hazards, and avoided looking at the cumulative impacts of numerous associated Caltrans highway-widening projects in Northern California for oversized truck access. Caltrans refused to consider alternatives besides highway widening, adopted unsubstantiated findings about impacts and mitigation measures, and failed to develop a monitoring program to ensure mitigation measures are actually followed.

Background

Route 199 is a scenic byway along the Smith River canyon, through the Six Rivers National Forest and the Smith River National Recreation Area. It provides access to Redwood National and State Parks, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage sites in California. Route 197 is a country road that parallels the lower Smith River, the only undammed river in California, with the longest stretch of designated “wild and scenic” river in the lower 48.

The project was first announced to the public in 2008. Conservation groups have been fighting misguided Caltrans attempts to widen Highway 101 through ancient redwoods in Richardson Grove State Park for oversized trucks. A lawsuit challenging that project resulted in a federal court sending Caltrans back to the drawing board for basing its project design on “faulty data.” Despite efforts by Caltrans to keep the Smith River project out of public scrutiny, hundreds of letters outlining concerns about impacts of the project on rare ecological resources and highway safety have been submitted.

A Caltrans internal report prepared in 1989 acknowledged the physical constraints of the narrow, steep and rocky Smith River Canyon and concluded that environmental concerns make Highway 199 “a poor candidate for extensive upgrading.” There will be significant threats to motorist and bicyclist safety if oversized trucks are routed to these roadways during winter, when Interstate 5 can be closed by snow and ice. These roadways already have a history of truck accidents. Caltrans is not even proposing operational modifications at the sites of two major recent truck accidents on Highway 199, revealing the inadequacy of the project for addressing motorist safety concerns.

The conservation groups are represented in this legal action by private attorneys Stuart Gross and Sharon Duggan, and the nationally recognized firm of Cotchett, Pitre, and McCarthy.

For more information contact:  Gary Graham Hughes, EPIC, (707) 822-7711

Click Here for Official Press Release: Suit Filed Against Destructive Caltrans Highway-widening Project in Remote Del Norte County

Click here to view the Petition for Writ of Mandate and Injunctive Relief

To learn more visit our webpage:  Wild and Scenic Smith River, the 197/199 Project

Posted in 197/199 Smith River Project, Rein In Caltrans | Comments Off

Willits ByPass Protests Continue

Greetings … the purpose of keeping you informed of the Willits ByPass protests is to give you a preview of what we will face when CALTRANS heads north from Willits to Richardson Grove.  Attached is a Press Release on the current status of the protest.

Presently, the Federal injunction is keeping the Richardson Grove project halted and CALTRANS has not moved to have the injunction lifted.  However, this is merely a pause in the action.

Here is an excellent ABC news report on the ByPass that highlights the absurdity of spending $210 million (plus mitigation funds) on an unnecessary and enormously destructive project.

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=9097039

Please consider supporting the Willits protest by donating funds if at all possible.  Here is information:

MAKE A DONATION  to the education & action fund
& sign the on-line petition:
Online: www.savelittlelakevalley.org
Facebook: http://facebook.com/savelittlelakevalley

To support the new legal fund do the following:
A legal fund has been established to challenge the Willits Bypass in State Court. To donate specifically to this fund, make checks out to Keep The Code and write in the memo “Little Lake Valley Legal Fund”
•          Give your check to a SOLLV member
•          Bring it to SOLLV Central, 716 South Main Street, 1A
•          Mail it to Keep The Code, PO BOX 131, Willits CA 95490.

For more information: www.Savelittlelakevalley.org


Or email: savelittlelake@gmail.com.

Letters or emails to State Senator Noreen Evans, Governor Jerry Brown and Congressman Jared Huffman in support of the protest would also be helpful.  Very truly yours, Barbara Kennedy

Posted in Willits ByPass | Comments Off

Guns Needed To Build ByPass

You would think I was crazy to write this but it actually happened!  Eco-criminals CALTRANS and their armed militia also known as the CHP forcibly removed the Willits tree-sitters Tuesday at gunpoint in an overwhelming show of force.  What you say – was there some kind of terrorist threat?  No, just five peaceful, unarmed tree sitters representing a threat to the CALTRANS machine.  The CALTRANS motto – we will build you a freeway whether you want it or not – even if it takes an armed invasion.

Swarms of riot-geared CHP swept into Willits at the crack of dawn hidden by the fog but not hidden from witnesses and observers.  While the CHP held observers and supporters at bay, cherry picker cranes containing gun-toting CHP Swat teams told Warbler that they would use “any means necessary” to extract her.  Then they moved on to Caspar and Celsius and actually shot one of these peaceful protesters three times with projectiles in their effort to remove him.  The remaining two tree-sitters were removed later in the day.

Don’t believe it happened?  Check out the videos on the SOLLV website or Facebook page:  <http://savelittlelakevalley.org>.

State Senator Noreen Evans issued the following statement:
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sacramento, CA –Senator Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) issued the following statement in response to today’s removal of Willits Bypass Project protesters by the California Highway Patrol (CHP):

“CHP was deployed to remove the protestors of the Willits Bypass Project just hours before I was set to meet with the director of Caltrans to have my questions answered.  According to some reports, protestors in trees were extracted by CHP using “rubber bullets”, and that CHP officers significantly outnumbered protestors.

“I am shocked and dismayed at what seems to be an excessive use of force on unarmed protestors.

“Thus far, I feel Caltrans and CHP have been slow to respond to my questions and quick to act regarding the Bypass Project.

“It also was extremely disturbing to learn that the press was excluded from observing the removal of the protestors.

“I had asked to be kept informed on a daily basis prior to any extraordinary action on this project as I represent the 1.3 million Californians living in the Second Senate District where this project is taking place. Regretfully that did not happen today.

“I met today with Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty to express my dismay at today’s events.  I have additionally requested an immediate meeting with CHP Commissioner Joseph Farrow.

“I urge everyone to remain calm and for protestors to remain peaceful in their opposition.”

State Senator Noreen Evans represents the Second Senatorial District, including all or portions of the Counties of Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Marin (caretaker), Napa, Solano and Sonoma. Senator Evans Chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary and is the outgoing Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.

Please let your elected officials know that we do not want our tax dollars spent to build more freeways at gun point and please support the Willits protesters because CALTRANS and their armed militia will be moving north to Richardson Grove next.

Thank you!  Barbara Kennedy

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Caltrans waste and boondoggle at Willits

There are many reasons why the Caltrans bypass around Willits – as designed – is bad news, but here’s the most compelling quick demonstration of why it’s a huge waste of taxpayer money:
Check out this Caltrans website 1 mile north of Willits  http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist1/d1tmc/1_cam.php?cam=27
It shows an empty or almost empty highway almost all of the time. This traffic (well, some of it, some of the through traffic will stop in town for gas or lunch) is the traffic Caltrans wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to “relieve.”
Willits has a traffic problem, certainly, but this bypass won’t fix it. First, because most of the traffic is local. Caltrans’ own numbers show only 70 to 80 percent of the traffic will use the bypass, and those numbers are from an old traffic study (more recent studies show traffic reduced by 20 percent) and optimistic, because when that study was done, Caltrans expected to build a mid-town Highway 20/Highway 101 interchange.
Due to the lack of a mid-town interchange, with the bypass entrance and exit quite far north and south of town, few locals will find it worthwhile to use it. And, also, with no Highway 20 interchange, all the traffic heading to the Mendocino Coast will still travel right down the existing 101, through the worst bottleneck in town, south of the Highway 20 exit. (although to urban drivers, the backup would hardly be noticeable most of the time, it does get bad sometimes)
Restriping that bottleneck, Caltrans’ estimate: $100,000, would do more to fix the traffic problem in Willits than the bypass will do.
And that’s not to mention “relocating” salmon during construction –  the Ryan Creek/Outlet Creek/Eel River Coho salmon run is the longest in California – or the effect of installing thousands (reportedly 55,000) “wick drains” to “dewater” the Little Lake Valley, which the Army Corps had to point out to Caltrans planners in Sacramento a few years ago, floods every winter, thus its name. The CA Farm Bureau has joined the lawsuit filed by environmentalists against the bypass project, due to concern about setting a precedent for inadequate review of economic and environmental impacts from loss of farmland.
Also not to mention safety: When locals were pressing for a 2-lane alternative (we’d like to see a “truck route” through town along Railroad Avenue / the old railroad tracks), Caltrans said a 2 lane alternative without a median barrier would be a “disaster” due to risk of accidents, lack of access for emergency vehicles, and because traffic would move at the speed of the slowest vehicle. Caltrans said a 2 lane alternative would require a whole new EIR/EIS.
And yet, now, due to lack of funding, that’s exactly what Caltrans is proposing to do: except their 6-mile two-lane with no median barrier bypass is elevated 20 or 30 feet up on a berm (1 mile on a viaduct).  Caltrans is getting around the “would need a new EIR” thing by claiming this is only “half” their planned bypass; they will come back and build the second half “later” although there’s no funding for it yet. Well, forgive us, but it’s been 50 years now, and we don’t expect this “second half” to materialize anytime in our lifetimes.
Thanks for reading. I hope at least you check out the web cam. Pro-bypass Willits City Council members who fought hard for a Highway 20 interchange will acknowledge that this bypass is not going to help Willits traffic much, “but at least it will get a few trucks off the road,” they say. One of them joked to me the other day that you could do the math to get a “per vehicle” cost for this bypass, “and it wouldn’t be pretty.”
Jennifer Poole
Willits, CA
Willits Weekly
Posted in Willits ByPass | Comments Off

Rosamond Crowder’s Speech at the Willits Bypass Protest Demonstration

1/28/13, Willits CA

Hello, I’m Rosamond Crowder.

I’ve been working with the Willits Environmental Center.

Today I’m here as an individual.

I did not organize today’s gathering and I want to thank everyone who did

I want to thank YOU for showing up today.

I want you to know that there is a Transportation Industrial Complex.

It is fueled by the mega-trucking industry and the highway construction industry.

Caltrans is their agent.

They take our tax dollars and they serve the Complex.

Caltrans knows very well how to play a small town and a rural county.

We have been played.

The agencies whose job it is to balance need and impact have betrayed our trust.

What do we do?

The legal system is slow and iffy.

It is a chess game, with the future of our valley at stake.

The story that is happening right here, right now is happening everywhere.

It’s happening in Richardson Grove and Niles Canyon.

Caltrans is out of control.

The Willits Environmental Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection and Information Center, the Mendocino Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Farm Bureau are suing the Army Corps of Engineers for approving this project.

This is a 300 million dollar project to fix a small traffic problem in Willits

Phase 1 alone would cost over 200 million.

Mitigation for the damage costs about 80 million.

There are people here who have worked for 20 years to bring reason home.

There are numerous in-town solutions that do not fill wetlands, impact the fisheries or cut down trees.

The 4-part Transportation Improvement Plan that you can get a flyer about here will tell you more.

All four parts together cost under 80 million.

This is what we need and it was the agency’s job to avoid filling wetlands when there are viable alternatives.

We know Caltrans cooked the books on traffic in ’06.

We know traffic is not increasing as their predictions indicated.

We know ¾ of the traffic in town is local traffic, and 2/3 of big trucks will still use our Main Street.

The groups that are in court are also suing Caltrans.

They believe that Caltrans needs to write a new Environmental Impact Report.

The last time Caltrans did a detailed traffic analysis was 1998. A lot has changed since then.

The mitigation plan is so large it has its own impacts that should also have an Environmental Impact Report.

The Farm Bureau estimates that about 2000 acres will be taken out of agricultural production.

The courts are slow.

The case does not get heard until June 7th.

The preliminary injunction failed.

The only hold up to the chain saws is the permits.

All the permits for this project are conditional permits.

Caltrans has not met all the conditions.

Two of the agencies just rolled over.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board gave an extension to two conditions.

These conditions were to be completed 90 days before vegetative removal or ground disturbing activities.

The Water Board said – - – -never mind – - – go ahead and cut!

I am outraged!  We all should be!!!

Caltrans holds two permits with the Department of Fish and Game.

They are currently in violation of both permits.

The DFG said – - – -never mind – - – go ahead and cut!

Again! I am outraged!  We all should be!!!

It is bad enough that Caltrans and the agencies betrayed our trust,

but for them to also betray their own permits is a crime!

There are flyers available with more information

Do what you need to do in your hearts.

Love our valley, love the trees and the water, be kind, and love each other

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Will Parrish: The Insanity Of The Willits Bypass…

From WILL PARRISH, Ukiah
Courtesy of the Anderson Valley Advertiser

As with so many places in the American West that have been struck by the flash-flood of capitalist development since the mid-19th century, that which is most absent from the contemporary landscape of Little Lake Valley — aka the Willits Valley — is encapsulated by its name. It is a valley that once teemed with wetlands, marshy areas that formed when the area’s once-lively streams overflowed their banks and scoured the surrounding meadows with moisture and nutrients. The Central Pomo people knew the area by the evocatively intimate name Mto’m-kai, which closely translates to “Valley of Water Splashing the Toes.”

As Willits’ settlers set about gridding the land and marketing it to cattle ranchers and timber merchants, they rapidly removed the wetlands. They did the same to the Pomo villagers and wildlife — waterfowl, pelicans, vast herds of tule elk and antelope, etc. — that had dwelled among the marshes and springs for so long. The early Euroamerican pioneers incised streambeds, redirected creeks, constructed artificial drainage ditches, and ripped apart the hardpan layers of topsoil that contained the water, allowing it to seep slowly into the ground.

Some of the moisture that time had stored on the land remains, though, most notably within the marshy area on the north end of the valley, extending across Route 101 on the west and Reynolds Highway on the east. The area acts as a collection point for three creeks that flow through the valley. It is then drained by Outlet Creek, a mighty 130-mile tributary of the Eel River. Among its other contributions to what might be called the “real world” of inland Mendocino County, Outlet Creek provides the longest remaining run for the endangered Coho salmon of any river tributary in California.

Given present political alignments here on the North Coast and in California, perhaps the only feasible way that a developer might deal a death blow to this last, crucial wetland area would be to construct a freeway through it. That’s exactly what the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), with instrumental backing from regional political officials and developers, is gearing up to do.

In case you haven’t yet tuned in until now, Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration have been pursuing a freeway bypass on Highway 101 around Willits for several decades, supposedly to ease traffic congestion along Main St. Though the agencies formulated this $210 million project years ago, its funding is courtesy of California Proposition 1B, which passed in 2006. This funding was on the verge of drying up following the 2008 economic meltdown, until regional political officials, including Rep. Mike Thompson, cashed in various among their political chips to get it back on track.

Notably, the Building Trade Unions — major backers of the Willits Bypass — are collectively Thompson’s fourth largest career donor. Only the alcohol industry, the health care industry, and the finance/insurance/real estate (FIRE) sector have been more generous in bestowing largesse on the veritably self-identified Congressman Wine Guy, according to the way the Center for Public Integrity classifies such things.

Construction of the Interstate 5-sized superhighway, beginning with its southern interchange near Walker Rd., might commence almost any day. Nearby industrial yards have begun busting with CalTrans surveying and construction vehicles. White and yellow stakes have sprung up intermittently through the Willits Valley, placed there by CalTrans personnel; the white stakes mark where the center of the highway would be, while yellow ones demarcate the edges of where the huge road would be.

Word is that CalTrans may attempt to begin construction prior to February 1st, after which the provisions of the federal Migratory Bird Act would make it even more illegal than it already is for the agency to move forward before October 15th. The act forbids cutting of trees that provide habitat for certain bird species between those dates.

While the Bypass project is widely known, the scale of destruction it would wreak upon Willits’ ecosystems is not yet widely known. For starters, CalTrans’ permit to fill in the Little Lake marsh is the largest it has received in California’s northern half in more than 50 years.

The last time CalTrans filled in a wetland area as large as this was during the freeway construction craze of the 1950s and 1960s, when such measures as the Eisenhower’s administration’s federal insterstate highway project — which was motivated to a considerable extent by a desire to make rapid military transport across the country more feasible — rendered the people of the country almost wholly dependent on automobility for transportation and to generate their livelihoods. Among the consequences have been far more rapid climate change and the suburbanization of American life.

Walking and driving through the areas that would be impacted by the Willits Bypass, and thus sensually experiencing the extent of what this project would destroy, I recalled philosopher Louis Mumford’s critique of that freeway construction binge of yesteryear, which he recorded in his book The Highway and the City: “In many parts of the country, the building of a highway has about the same result upon vegetation and human structures as the passage of a tornado or the blast of an atom bomb.”

The Willits Bypass would snake through the Little Lake Valley in a broad six-mile band, devouring not only wetlands, but oak forests, meadows, native plants, native bunchgrasses, Ponderosa pines groves, Oregon ash groves, habitat for northern spotted owls, habitat for coho salmon, habitat for steelhead trout, habitat for Tidewater Goby, habitat for Western pond turtles, habitat for Peregrine Falcons, habitat for Yellow Warblers, habitat for Point Arena Mountain Beavers, habitat for Red Tree Voles, habitat for California red-legged frogs, habitat for foothill yellow-legged frogs, habitat for Western snowy plovers, habitat for pale big-eared bats, and prime farmland.

To convert the habitat of the Willits Valley to make it unsuitable for the aforementioned species, but instead suitable for 18-wheelers bouncing and careening through the valley at highway speeds, will require a striking feat of engineering. CalTrans intends to scrape between 1.8 and 2.4 million cubic meters of topsoil off of Oil Well Hill, just north of Willits, along with other hilly areas in the vicinity of the project. CalTrans would orchestrate these excavations to the tune of more than 200 dump truck trips delivering gravel, soil, and asphalt in Willits every day for roughly two years.

The National Climatic Data Center released a report last week announcing that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States by a full degree Celsius. As I write this, Australia is being consumed by wildfire. The country has invented a new color coding system to account for the new regularity of weather in the 122 to 129 degree range.

Yet, as global warming is wreaking havoc across the globe, public agencies like CalTrans remain fixed in business-as-usual mode. Although CalTrans claims the Bypass will prevent carbon dioxide emissions by reducing stop-and-go traffic, the construction process alone would generate 380,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions — about 90 years’ worth of what CalTrans claims to be saving. Meanwhile, people in the region will be made further dependent on automobility.

Federal and state regulations require that construction projects ensure “no net loss” of wetlands, a vital part of the ecosystem that filter pollutants and provide habitat for endangered species. Destroy an acre of wetlands one place, and you have to create another acre somewhere else — preferably in the same watershed. Of course, it is impossible to replace wetlands once they are lost, which is why the area encompassed by the modern state of California, which once had five million acres of wetlands, is now down to roughly 370,000.

CalTrans officials have had a bug to build the bypass for decades, with one of their main justifications being that it would eliminate the only stoplights remaining on Highway 101 between San Francisco and Eureka. Among the indications that the agency’s speed addiction is unhealthy is that it is clinging to the idea in spite of its obvious insanity that is clear to those who have given it sober observation.

For example, Mark Scaramella raised this practical objection in this publication earlier this year, concerning the plan to build on Willits’ northern marshland: “If I’m reading this correctly, Caltrans is proposing to construct an elevated highway several miles long which will be carried above ground level to avoid flooding by being constructed on pilings placed in fine sediment.

“A prediction: When [the construction company contracting with CalTrans] discover how unstable the area is, the project will have to be put on hold while Caltrans tries to decide what to do. Cost and schedule estimates will increase dramatically. There won’t be enough money to finish the project. And Willits will be left out in the cold, having suffered through a big part of the Bypass impact (construction vehicles, increased traffic, dust, noise, etc.) with nothing but a partially built and useless Bypass project that nobody will know how to finish to show for it.”

As I toured the ecological bootprint of the project last month, the group I accompanied drove to a mountain overlook above the Bypass project area. Though we were looking down on an area that once teemed with life — Tule elk, migratory birds, and all the rest — a stillness hung over the valley. The area is platted with a grid of cattle ranches that extend all out to the Little Lake basin area, which made the land seem broodingly empty, if not yet entirely converted into lifelessness.

Many cattle ranchers are upset with the Bypass project, too. The strongly conservative California Farm Bureau sued CalTrans over the loss of farmland the project would impose, particularly as the agency haphazardly seeks to re-create wetlands on erstwhile cattle ranches.

If CalTrans gets the project off the ground (which it will, unless they are stopped by people who care about the fate of the land in the area), the area will bustle with activity. The project would temporarily create 2,900 jobs (at least, according to CalTrans’ projections). According to the project’s Environmental Impact Review, it will take five years to dewater, fill in, and piledrive the Little Lake marsh area to make it suitable for the 30-foot-high concrete viaduct structure it is constructing above the area.

The dewatering will come courtesy of so-called “wick drains”: 85-foot long metal polls that CalTrans’ contractors will drill into the ground at five foot intervals, being that they are specially engineered to suck moisture out of the ground.

After the project is done, the temporary construction workers will move on. The area will be dried up. Plants near the project area — even those that won’t be touched by the bulldozers and dump trucks — would no longer be able to reach the water with their roots. Among the plants that would be destroyed is semaphore grass, a native perennial herb that once grew abundantly throughout the state, including here in the North Coast, but which is now on the brink of extinction. One of the last remaining patches of this charismatic plant grows beneath a Valley Oak grove in the Little Lake bog. It is one of the plants that perhaps best symbolizes the conversion of wetlands in California with which it is historically associated.

Any day now, this ecosystem could be suddenly ripped apart by the Willits Bypass. The brooding stillness that attends the scene beyond the marshland would be displaced by bouncing, vibrating trucks and cars roaring across the valley, the stillness of the area joining the absence of so many other things that once lived here.

And all for what, and whose, benefit? The project will not even alleviate any of Willits’ supposed traffic congestion problem. Yet, much of what has defined this land since time immemorial, including the last of its original wetlands, will be gone forever.

A series of tours of the ecological footprint, similar to the one I participated in, are taking place this winter, sponsored by the Mendo Free Skool project. Call 216-5549 for more information.

Posted in Willits ByPass | Comments Off

Willits Bypass Update: Caltrans Work Set to Start End of January 2013

UPDATE FROM THE BAY AREA COALITION FOR HEADWATERS 

JAN. 19, 2013

::><::><::><::><::><::><::><::><::><::><::><::><::><::><:::><::><::><::><::><::><::><::

Willits Bypass Update 

Caltrans Work Set to Start End of January 2013

We last updated you in November re. this Caltrans boondoggle project in Mendocino County that would affect significant wetlands, an oak woodland, salmon and steelhead habitat and endangered plant species. Now, after delays and false starts, construction on the Willits Bypass is officially set to begin Jan. 28, 2013. Caltrans has received their last remaining permits from the Water Quality Board and State Fish and Wildlife Departments, giving them the green light to “top” and limb oaks, remove vegetation in the Bypass footprint and punch a haul road into the wetlands to install the first “test” pylons. 

A lawsuit filed by Willits Environmental Center, Environmental Information & Protection Center, Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club Coast Redwood Chapter is in federal court but was recently denied a request for a preliminary injunction, leaving direct action as the only option to protect the sensitive habitat of Little Lake Valley from irreparable harm.  

Nonviolent civil disobedience trainings are being offered and the resistance to this wasteful, destructive and unnecessary project is building. Tours of the ecological footprint of the project area are being arranged.

This concrete and asphalt assault will have long term negative impacts on the land, water, fish, endangered species, and the rural quality of life. The Bypass is part of Caltrans’ larger plan to pave a four lane freeway from the Mexican border to Canada through road widening projects like those in  Richardson Grove and on the Smith River (Hwy 197/199). 

The north coast needs your support!

For more info and to get involved, contact:

Naomi Wagner 707 629-3546 or Ellen Faulkner  707 485-5867

::><::><::><::><::><::><::><::
Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters

2530 San Pablo Ave.
Berkeley, Calif.  94702
Posted in Willits ByPass | Comments Off