Another lawsuit aims to stop Willits bypass work

Environmentalists have filed another lawsuit aimed at stalling work on the Willits bypass.

They will be asking a Mendocino County judge on Wednesday for an injunction to stop soil from being moved from timber company property to wetlands Caltrans is filling as part of the $210 million, 5.9-mile Highway 101 bypass around Willits.

The bypass, conceived more than five decades ago, has increasingly sparked opposition as it verges on reality. It generated another lawsuit last year and a multitude of protests since construction began early this year.

Proponents say the bypass will alleviate traffic jams through Willits, where Highway 101 is the main through street; reduce vehicle exhaust; and make the streets safer.

Opponents say it's unnecessary, will destroy wetlands, harm fish and irrevocably change the rural nature of the Little Lake Valley.

The most recent lawsuit, filed Friday against the county of Mendocino, claims county planners wrongly issued a permit allowing 883,950 cubic yards of fill dirt to be moved from Mendocino Forest Products land to the bypass property without adequate environmental and regulatory review.

"It's a lot of dirt," said Ellen Drell, of the Willits Environmental Center.

But county planning staff issued a simple grading permit, apparently agreeing with Mendocino Forest Products' engineering consultants who contended that the project didn't need more intensive review because it is on industrial land and that flattening it will make the property more usable.

"It's pretty outrageous really," Drell said.

The permit did not require Mendocino Forest Products — an affiliate of Mendocino Redwood Company — to test the soil for contaminants, she said. The soil will be placed adjacent to streams and sensitive wetlands, she said. It also didn't adequately evaluate the impacts on the forest property. The grading includes removal of fir trees, Drell said.

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