Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Army Corps Halts Bypass Work

Posted By on Tue, Jun 24, 2014 at 2:26 PM

If you’ve driven though Willits lately, you’ve noticed the tan swaths of fill swooping through pasture along the east side of U.S. 101 and the spindly wooden forms revealing the future configuration of the Willits Bypass.

Yes, the project’s substantially underway. And yet it continues to be riddled with problems. Most recently, the Army Corps of Engineers suspended its permit to Caltrans for construction of the bypass, saying in a notice dated June 20 that Caltrans has failed to follow the mitigation and monitoring plan agreed upon in February 2012, despite repeated urging by the Corps in emails and in-person visits over the past two years.

The plan details how Caltrans will protect wetlands and other waters in the project area, or mitigate for their loss. Caltrans also is required to submit mitigation and monitoring plans to state agencies, and in fact on June 13 the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board approved one of them.

The Corps says Caltrans is behind schedule in implementing mitigations for impacts to wetlands already occurring; hasn’t set up a mechanism to pay for ongoing mitigation and monitoring; and hasn’t updated the mitigation plan to reflect changes in scheduling.

Among the mitigations that was supposed to have begun is rehabilitation of some 345 acres of off-site ranchland and restoration of another roughly 70 acres of wetland and streams, all to compensate for some 65 acres of wetland impacted directly by the bypass. 

Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie said Tuesday that while Caltrans has been updating the Corps about changes in the schedule through emails and in person, it has not formally updated the mitigation plan itself. He said Caltrans plans to meet with the Army Corps this afternoon to find out exactly what the Corps wants. In the meantime, he says, Caltrans can, with permission from the Corps, continue to work on areas of the project where wetlands won’t be further impacted.

The suspension is conditional upon Caltrans meeting the Corps’ demands. 

You can read previous Journal coverage here. And here is a copy of the suspension notice:

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Heidi Walters

Heidi Walters worked as a staff writer at the North Coast Journal from 2005 to 2015.

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