Willits, CA—In a move that was welcomed by but that stunned long-time opponents of the highway project and stung Caltrans, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) suspended the permit for the Caltrans Willits Bypass on Friday, June 20, reported ABC News. ACE is the agency that regulates impacts on federally protected wetlands.


“This appears to be the first time ACE has ever pulled a permit on an approved project under construction,” said Ellen Drell, co-founder of the Willits Environmental Center, one of the project’s opponents.” We are surprised and elated that ACE has finally acted, although we have been pointing out the enormous problems with Caltrans’ plans for years. Since construction began last year, Caltrans’ violations have been so blatant and egregious that the Army Corps could not overlook them any more. We see the solution as simple:


1) Downsize the Bypass northern exchange, salvaging approximately half the wetlands Caltrans is destroying;


2) Eliminate the scientifically unjustified and untested “wetland creation area” areas (Group II and areas in the 29.5 acres Caltrans purports to use as “additional” mitigation land in their just-released mitigation plan, using approximately 30 acres of wetlands already allocated to satisfy other mitigation conditions—so-called “double-dipping”); and


3) Protect and restore Native American Archeological and Ancestral sites.


Over 50 people were arrested last year in protests to stop Caltrans construction and advocate for alternative plans. In addition to the issues of wetlands destruction, a long list of violations of the Migratory Bird Act, Clean Water Act and numerous permit violations and other habitat threats, it has come to the attention of local Tribes that archaeological sites were buried with new fill without Tribal consultation, as required by law.


A resolution was put forward in April by the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians (see link), in addition to a resolution opposing the Bypass by the National Congress of American Indians, the “oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization serving the interests of trial communities.”


On Thursday, June 26, American Indian Spirit Runners will run through Willits in support of Indigenous people, sacred sites threatened and destroyed by Caltrans, and to support the campaign to stop the Bypass. This pass through Willits is part of a 500-mile Spiritual Marathon, with the runners expected in the Willits area about 12:30 pm.


It has just been learned through a phone call between Caltrans Assoc. Environmental Planner Timothy O’Keefe and Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians (CVBPI) Historic Preservation Officer Eddie Knight that another archaeological site was damaged by construction crews on June 12. The damage occurred in the area where Caltrans is carrying out “environmental mitigation.” It is covered in a piece in the Anderson Valley Advertiser.


Excavator in jurisdictional wetlands

The CYBPI is currently involved in government-to-government consultations with Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration regarding damage done to ancestral villages and sites in the construction area. Priscilla Hunter, Tribal Representative to the consultations said, “There are so many archaeological sites in the contruction area that the CA. Office of Historic Preservation has declared that the entire area of the Bypass could be designated an “archaeological district”, and thus our Tribe has called for a downsizing of the Project’s footprint in order to protect these sites.”


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