For immediate release Aug. 19, 2014
Redwood Nation Earth First!
Bay Area Coalition to Save Headwaters Coalition to Save Little Lake Valley
Protests Rekindled Against Caltrans’ Willits Bypass Restraining Order Sought to Halt Excavation Meant to Infill Wetlands
Willits, CA—Today the Willits Environment Center (WEC) and Keep the Code (KTC) will file for a Temporary Restraining Order in Mendocino County Superior court to prevent the excavation of 900,000 cubic yards of dirt from the Mendocino Forest Products site, aka the Old Apache Mill site, approximately two miles north of Willits on highway 101. Mendocino Forest Products was given the go ahead to begin excavation this week as Caltrans sought to restart work on the disputed northern interchange of the Willits bypass. Excavation involves leveling almost half of the 50 acre property and clear cutting of eleven acres of forested hillside. In March this year, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors approved a Use Permit for the excavation of 900,000 cu. yds. to use as fill on the northern interchange, issuing a ‘mitigated negative declaration’ of impacts for the project, despite the amount being nine hundred times the limit allowed by County regulations without a reclamation plan. WEC and KTC filed a lawsuit against the County in April, alleging failure to disclose potentially significant environmental impacts of the proposed excavation, including impacts to known spotted owl nesting sites, lack of any reclamation plan, aesthetic impacts of mining the hillside, and direct and indirect impacts to Native American archeological sites. “The County ignored its’ own Surface Mining and Reclamation laws and sidestepped the Planning Commission to rush this Use Permit forward”, said Ellen Drell of the WEC. Caltrans has admitted destroying a large Pomo village site on the north end of the project and has discovered numerous other sites. Caltrans’ 2006 environmental document said there would be no significant impact to archeological sites. Little Lake Valley is described by the Native American Heritage Commission as rich in cultural artifacts of the former Pomo inhabitants. The excavated material from the MFP site would be used to bury and compact some 30 acres of wetlands in Little Lake Valley to a height of 20-30 feet to construct a four-lane interchange north of Willits. In June, the Army Corps of Engineers conditionally suspended Caltrans’ 404 Permit to fill wetlands, halting construction for three weeks because Caltrans was two years behind in delivering promised mitigations for wetlands already destroyed by the project, defined as ‘temporal losses’. As part of the deal brokered by Congressional Representatives Jared Huffman and his predecessor Mike Thompson to lift the suspension, Caltrans agreed to evaluate ways to reduce wetland impacts and help make up for temporal losses due to delayed mitigation. “The only place to significantly reduce wetland fill is at the northern interchange. There is no need for this massive, destructive 4-lane boondoggle. Reducing the size of the northern interchange will reduce the need for so much excavation, saving time, money and cultural and natural resources”, said Drell. On Monday, bypass opponents attended the Mendocino college campus venue where Representative Jared Huffman was conducting a “coffee with the congressman” meeting. Bypass opponents commented, questioned and held signs that read: “Jared Huffman Highway to Nowhere: Willits Bypass” and “Caltrans: Your Tax Dollars at Waste, Destroying Northern California”. When Congressman Huffman was asked if he supported phase two of the Willits bypass project, the reason for building the four-lane northern interchange, he agreed that phase two would probably never be needed. “Citizens are still demanding a significant downsizing of the destructive northern interchange since it’s very likely that it will never be built”, said Drell.