Willits bypass project still drawing tree-sitting protests

Protesters of the Willits bypass gathered to support the newest tree-sitter Friday in a small, but continual effort to draw attention to their cause.

Will Parrish, 31, a Ukiah resident who was arrested with eight others during a CHP operation April 2, took up residence in an oak tree on the north end of the bypass construction zone Tuesday. His tree is marked with a 25-foot banner with him that reads, "Save our water. Stop Caltrans now!"

"We need to continue sending the message that we're putting our bodies on the line," Parrish said. "As part of a bigger political movement, it's important to have this really strong direct action component and shows how serious we are."

More than three months have passed since the first Willits tree-sitter ascended a pine, and 17 people, including seven tree-sitters, have been arrested in connection with the bypass protests. Three were arrested Tuesday during another altercation with CHP officers deployed to manage the demonstrations.

"We're starting a community tree-sit at this point," said Sara Grusky, an organizer with Save Our Little Lake Valley. "We'll probably adopt a rotation model, and while we'll encourage people to stay up as long as possible, we understand people have jobs, families and lives."

Grusky said the group's current focus is to encourage the Army Corps of Engineers to rescind Caltrans' permit to build the bypass, saying Caltrans lacks the funds needed for the environmental mitigation. Caltrans officials have disputed that assertion.

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

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