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Willits bypass work continues as protesters vow more demonstrations

Opponents of the Highway 101 Willits bypass vowed Wednesday to continue efforts to block its construction while tree and brush clearance continued in the project corridor where five tree-sitters were physically extracted from their roosts a day before.

As one tree-sitter remained jailed on a felony battery charge, a lull in tension at the project site permitted Caltrans crews to finish stripping vegetation from a mile-long work area and to begin installing environmental fencing in the next segment scheduled for tree clearing, Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie said.

But even as the work moved forward, activists were planning future events aimed at building opposition to the $210-million project.

Willits Tree-Sitters Forced Down

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"This is just the beginning of a struggle that will last as long as it has to last to keep that bypass out of that valley," 73-year-old Ellen Faulkner said. "And there will be everything: tree-sitting, lockdowns, totally new things nobody's ever done before, enormous rallies."

Caltrans says the bypass, already decades in planning, is critical to improving travel and transport along the Highway 101 corridor and has enjoyed broad support from the public and local government.

It would permit inter-regional traffic to avoid the congestion and controlled intersections along the narrow, old-style highway through town and is designed to handle projected increases in traffic over time.

The state agency has obtained necessary permits to proceed, despite a legal bid for a preliminary injunction against construction last fall.

Mendocino County supervisors voted just last week to reaffirm their support for the plan.

But demonstrators say a growing chorus of concern about the necessity and environmental impact of the 6-mile-long bypass proves their message is gaining support.

A pending lawsuit also provides some prospect of a legal end to the debate about a proposal that critics say jeopardizes important riparian habitat, sensitive wetlands, water supplies and farmlands.


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