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Dueling Willits bypass rallies; eight arrested

  • Jon Siller, of Santa Rosa, left, and Chris Snyder, district representative for Operating Engineers Local No. 3, rally in favor of the Highway 101 Willits bypass project, in Willits, on Thursday, March 21, 2013.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

WILLITS - Eight people were arrested on suspicion of trespassing at the site of the controversial Highway 101 bypass Thursday, as dueling protests downtown and at the construction site rocked the town of 5,000 people.

CHP officers arrested four people near a tree where a Willits woman has been camped out since January, just a few hours before more than 80 union construction workers rallied in downtown Willits to protest repeated construction delays caused by activists opposed to the bypass. Officers arrested four more protesters near two newer tree-sittings later in the day.

Even before Caltrans began construction Feb. 25 on the $210 million bypass, which aims to alleviate traffic congestion and air pollution, the project has stirred heated arguments. Protesters worried the project will damage the environment and hurt local businesses have staged tree-sittings, stood in front of construction equipment and held rallies over the issue.

Hwy. 101 Willits Bypass Project

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A 24-year-old Willits woman named Amanda "Warbler" Senseman has been sitting in a pine tree protesting the bypass since Jan. 28, and two new tree-sitters moved into position at the East Hill Road entrance to the site earlier this week. The new tree-sitters, both men whose identities were not available Thursday, are closer to Caltrans' equipment than Senseman.

At least seven of the eight arrested were taken to Mendocino County Jail in Ukiah, where they were cited and released, CHP public information officer Steve Krul said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Among those arrested were Sara Grusky, Jamie Chevalier and Matt Chandler of Willits, Will Parrish of Ukiah, Elizabeth Reigel of Forestville, Sandra Marshall of Redwood Valley and Tara Dragani, whose city of residence was unknown, Krul said.

Dragani was described by one bystander as being "dragged away kicking and screaming," though CHP declined to say whether she resisted arrest.

Krul also said no arrests had been made before Thursday because Caltrans still had been in negotiations with the protesters.

CHP is on site to make sure Caltrans contractors are protected, along with making sure state property and construction equipment isn't damaged, Krul said.

"It's also equally important to make sure that the protesters are allowed their opportunity to express their First Amendment rights," Krul said.


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