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Bird nest halts construction of Willits bypass

The construction of the controversial Willits bypass off Highway 101 has stuttered after the discovery Monday of a bird nest that interfered with the first day of construction.

While two bird nests were discovered on the site, Caltrans officials suspected the first was man-made. Discovery of the second nest later in the day caused Caltrans to voluntarily suspend construction while it undergoes analysis by a state Department of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist, said Phil Frisbie, a Mendocino County Caltrans official.

The bypass project has been met with opposition from environmental groups and local businesses, and prompted a 24-year-old Willits woman to stage a tree-sit protest. Environmental groups have said that Caltrans is out of compliance with the federal Migratory Bird Protection Act.

"Our main concern is that this is the migratory season," said Sara Grusky, a leader of the group Save Our Little Lake Valley, which is protesting the bypass. "They shouldn't be allowed to remove that vegetation."

Caltrans will not remove further vegetation pending re-evaluation of the area in conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife department, Frisbie said.

"We are working with them to make sure we are meeting with all state and federal regulations," Frisbie said.

Prior to the discovery of the nest and the need for re-evaluation, Frisbie maintained that Caltrans followed the law and remained within their permit constraints.

One point of contention is the allegation that the first nest found on the site was man-made, something Grusky calls "outrageous." Frisbie said Caltrans biologist Jerome Washington made the allegation based on how the nest was woven and where it was found.

Construction briefly resumed Tuesday until two protesters, Grusky and Jamie Chevalier, stepped in front of the excavators, which paused construction a second time. Frisbie said the construction was stopped because the crew was running out of materials, and not because of the protesters.

The tree-sitting Willits woman calling herself "Warbler" remains in a pine tree just off Highway 101, still hoping to stop the bypass. "Warbler," whose real name is Amanda Senseman, ascended the tree Jan. 28 and has refused to come down despite concerns from local law enforcement and a rash of snowy weather.


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