More arrests, new tree-sitter at site of Willits bypass

A Willits tree-sitter previously arrested on suspicion of trespassing took up residence in a new tree Monday, while a protester delivering supplies to the area was arrested Tuesday.

Fort Bragg resident Jean Weilbach, 23, was among five tree-sitters removed from the construction zone of the Willits bypass project. The five were arrested along with three others on the ground during an all-day confrontation April 4 between bypass protesters and the CHP.

"I'm up here as long as I can to try and prove a point that what they're doing is wrong," Weilbach said.

The small town of Willits remains in the throes of more than 10 weeks of protests over the $210 million bypass. Construction began Feb. 25 but has encountered several delays due to protests and the discovery of bird nests along the route.

While Caltrans has obtained permits for the work, activists contend the project is in violation of multiple environmental measures, including the federal Migratory Bird Act.

"Willits needs this valley (and) you can't just strip the land for your own needs," Weilbach said. "The whole project is a waste of resources and tax dollars."

Weilbach, a dual citizen originally from South Africa, ascended an alder tree toward the north end of the construction zone Monday evening. The tree sports a large banner hanging from his perch, with the words: "Listen to the community, don't bypass Willits."

The site was chosen due to its proximity to Haehl Creek, which is designated by the National Marine Fisheries Service as a fisheries habitat protection zone, said Naomi Wagner, an Earth First organizer.

Weilbach is the second tree-sitter to follow "Owl," a 27-year-old Oregon woman who has been sitting in a valley oak since April 6. "My plans are to be here until I'm extracted," she said.

Seventeen people have been arrested during the protests over the bypass, with one remaining in Mendocino County Jail facing three counts of assault and battery.

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