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Possible resolution in works on Willits bypass standoff

After construction stopped Wednesday for a second time, a potential resolution is in the works to a standoff over the Willits bypass off Highway 101.

Caltrans contractors attempted to resume building a fence along a portion of the site Wednesday morning but called in the CHP after two protesters stepped in front of construction machinery.

"We've been trying to find some kind of resolution to the issue over the past few weeks," said CHP Capt. Jim Epperson, who responded to the call.

Sara Grusky and Jamie Chevalier, both of Willits, stepped in front of one of the machines, stating that the fence building was in violation of recent negotiations with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the federal Migratory Bird Act, Grusky said.

Epperson extended an offer from Caltrans in an attempt to reach a settlement. The Caltrans offer included a designated area where the protesters could set up camp near the site along with limited access to the site to monitor construction efforts.

Protesters came back to Epperson with a counteroffer for Caltrans to halt construction until a meeting is set with State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, to discuss alternatives to the bypass. Evans wrote a letter to Caltrans on March 5, requesting a meeting to discuss alternatives.

As part of the protesters' counteroffer, a 24-year-old Willits woman known as "Warbler," who has camped out in a pine tree since Jan. 28, would agree to descend from her perch 70 feet above the construction site.

Warbler, whose real name is Amanda Senseman, originally pushed to have a full bypass alternative reached before agreeing to come down, but reverted to the terms discussed with Epperson, she said.

Caltrans is preparing a formal response to Evans' letter, said Phil Frisbie, a Mendocino County Caltrans official. A response to the protesters' request will also follow.

You can reach Staff Writer Melody Karpinski at 521-5205 or melody.karpinski@pressdemocrat.com.


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