I am a long-time member of the Dkos community (since 2004) and a recent transplant to beautiful Northern California. I just returned from a Save the Little Lake Valley rally in the town of Willits on Hwy 101 in northern Mendocino County. It inspired me to write this diary, since, as far as I can determine, there have been no diaries about this particular environmentally destructive boondoggle posted here.
The transportation agency of the state of California, CALTRANS, has started cutting down beautiful ancient oaks and tearing up pasture land to build a six mile long bypass for Route 101 around Willits. Why is this a stupid idea? First, the highway will only be 2 lanes wide (one in each direction). The state argues that it needs this bypass because the present route of Hwy 101 through downtown Willits, also 2 lanes wide, gets backed up with traffic sometimes, e.g. in the summer on weekends and holidays. The state has rationalized building huge deeply sunk pilings for the bypass by claiming that the highway will be widened to 4 lanes (2 each way) in 2030. 2030! And the projected cost of this 4 lane highway is $350 million, which works out to $58 million per mile! California was just recently broke. But in 18 years it enough money will be pouring in to widen unnecessary highways?
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Why is the Willits bypass, whatever its width, unnecessary? Because much of the truck and tourist traffic will still have to pass through downtown Willits once the bypass is built. The major traffic artery to Fort Bragg and all those little towns near the coast tourists love, Highway 20, now intersects 101 in downtown Willits and will continue to, even if the bypass is built. At present there are no plans to connect Highway 20 and this stupid bypass.
Although I am no environmental expert, it seems to me that the worst damage building the bypass will do is to the large seasonal wetland located at the northern end of the proposed route. These wetlands will be drained by what are called wick drains, to be drilled 85 feet down—55,000 of them. Approximately 20-30 acres of wetland will be drained and covered by fill dirt, around 140,000 dump truck loads of it. The areas that will be disturbed for this part of the project are habitats for the spotted owl and semaphore grass, which is on the endangered species list.
Local environmentalists have done a tremendous amount of research detailing all the harm that will be wrought by the bypass. And they have laid out a number of alternatives to the bypass that would be less damaging and more likely to reduce traffic downtown. Some have engaged in courageous non-violent actions to try and prevent the loss of these beautiful trees. A tree-sitter, nom de arbre Warbler, spent over two months in a pine tree on the site. She was joined later by 4 other tree-sitters, Eagle, Falcon, Celsius and Caspian. They were all forcibly extracted from their arboreal homes by the California Highway Patrol using some of their mechanical toys.
My two cents? From what I have learned building this bypass is folly. Maybe not on the scale of the folly of the US invading Iraq. But this is some people’s backyard, and we need to save every last foot of undeveloped land that we can in this country. From what I have seen, I don’t think the economy around here is going to start booming any time soon. Paradoxically, what will be a boon for the country as a whole, the legalization of marijuana, will reduce the amount of cash in the pockets of a sizeable number of folks here. And though, vineyards have been creeping northward at a steady pace for decades now, there has to be a limit to the amount of wine the world can drink. Why does this part of Northern California need superhighways? There is already a superhighway 50 miles east of Willits: Highway 5. There is not a great deal of development even alongside it.
So I say, let Northern California keep its ancient oaks, its spawning salmon (also endangered by this project), its sleepy little towns and its ancient hippies. Long live Little Lake Valley!
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