Bypass Updates 2015

Caltrans Bypass – Update  (Apr. 30 ’15)  - by Madge Strong  

 The saga of the Bypass continues: Caltrans bulldozes ahead despite impacts, disasters, cost overruns, and sensible alternatives.       After years of assurances to the contrary, Caltrans is poised to allow herbicide use on 67 acres of wetland “creation” areas (mostly along streambanks) in their mitigation contracts. They argue it’s necessary to expedite the eradication of blackberries. Fortunately, opposition is building. A forum on Mar. 8th informed and energized the public on the issues. On Mar. 25th Willits City Council, by a 4-1 vote, called on Caltrans and all relevant state and federal agencies not to allow the use of herbicides (or other ‘cides). Tom Woodhouse will introduce a similar resolution to the Board of Supervisors, on their May 5th agenda. (On the other hand, the BOS failed to adopt a mild resolution opposing “hack and squirt”.) With elected officials weighing in, we hope agencies will pay attention!   

    Meanwhile, Caltrans’ contractor has rebuilt the collapsed section of the viaduct, despite no information on what caused the collapse.   

    Caltrans has also recently restarted dumping tons of fill on the northern interchange, with a phalanx of trucks and spraying of water for dust control.  This will raise the bypass up to 30 feet high. Their “redesign” (to placate a behind-doors deal with Army Corps of Engineers last summer) slightly narrows the on and off ramps (saving only about 3 acres of wetland fill), while it eliminates the previously planned round-about on uplands. SOLLV continues to advocate that the round-about alone could provide the northern bypass connection, saving money, wetlands, and providing more convenient access in and out of Willits.         Points of leverage on Caltrans’ “super-sized” project were discussed at a SOLLV-sponsored forum on April 25th.  One is the cost overruns. Our county has so far footed the bill for 15% of the project: starting at $32 million, then adding another $9 million for unspecified cost overruns in late November 2014. This has tapped out funding for all other local transportation projects for past and future years! But it’s not over: the mitigation project is way over budget, and Caltrans admits there will be other overruns. Couldn’t our local officials refuse to sink more funds into this black hole?  

     Another “leverage” is that both the footprint and mitigation areas are now known to be filled with Native American artifacts. In the EIS for the project in 2006, only one site was identified. Now the entire area is deemed an archeological district. All three local tribes (Coyote Valley, Sherwood, and Round Valley) have demanded government-to-government consultation, yet Caltrans has so far failed to do surveys or observe protocols to protect the areas. The tribes have federal laws on their side – perhaps atoning for centuries of past abuse.       Check for late-breaking news.      

Caltrans Bypass – Update  (Feb. 26 ’14)  - by Madge Strong  

 The BIG not-so-news is the stunning collapse of a 150 foot section of the Bypass viaduct on Jan. 22nd. Although this event received extensive local and state media coverage, there has been no report on what caused the disaster. On Feb. 5th, SOLLV wrote a letter to State and Federal officials calling for a thorough independent investigation before construction continues. Instead, construction has resumed, posing potential further risks to workers.  

     SOLLV’s letter also raised questions about the stability of the planned fill and five bridges at the northern interchange and – once again – suggested that money, time, wetlands, and Native American cultural sites could be saved by eliminating the unnecessary interchange.   

    The Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians and other tribal representatives have finally succeeded in opening government-to-government consultations with Caltrans, the Corps of Engineers, and federal Highways. So far, however, meaningful changes to protect the Native sites seem unlikely.   

    Finally, as previously reported, Caltrans is proposing to use herbicides in their effort to expedite weed removal on wetland mitigation areas. A forum on this issue is planned Mar. 8th. Also check for late-breaking news)      

Caltrans Bypass – Update  (Dec. 30 ’14)  - by Madge Strong  

 The latest news is that Caltrans received approval for a $64.7 million overrun on the Phase 1 construction work. This includes $9.7 million, a 15% share, from the Mendocino Council of Governments; MCOG admitted this will use up all local transportation funds for years to come. The California Transportation Commission (CTC) doled out the rest of the funds  Barely acknowledged is that this is only the first overrun request. This new price tag does not include the mitigation work, which will undoubtedly run at least $50 to $100 million more than is currently allocated. Nor does it include other overruns from now until the end of construction (late 2017). As just one example, the recent failure of the rock slopes at the southern interchange will be a costly fix.  Over a dozen letters submitted to the CTC pointed out that tens of millions could be saved – in addition to greatly reducing impacts to wetlands and Native American sites – if the northern interchange were eliminated. The CTC and Caltrans simply stonewall this option.  Meanwhile, on Nov. 18th, over 100 people, including a large Native American contingent, rallied at the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) office in San Francisco. ACE has apparently not yet given its blessings to Caltrans’ proposed minor design changes (saving only 3-4 acres of wetlands instead of 20-30 acres). After holing up in their office for hours, ACE finally agreed to meet with two Tribal representatives. ACE officials claimed that protecting the ancestral sites is up to Caltrans itself. Eventually, though, they were persuaded to hold a government-to-government consultation with the Tribes, now scheduled for Jan. 6th.  A final outrage is that Caltrans’ is now seeking to use herbicides in parts of the mitigation lands. (See adjoining article.) Stand by for more news, including checking