New Wick Drain Protest Delays CalTrans Again

26 Jul

from Save Little Lake Valley                7/23/13

Picture from the May wick drain lock down.

Picture from the May wick drain lock down.

Caltrans’ attempt to drain and fill wetlands was shut down today when two activists locked themselves to both of the giant “stitcher” towers that are punching thousands of wick drains into the water table near this small rural town. The wick drains are being used to compact the soil so that it can no longer hold water, in preparation for building a freeway. The Willits Bypass freeway project entails the biggest loss of wetlands in Northern California in 50 years. Opponents of the project say it is a giant loss for taxpayers as well.

Two protesters were able to slip past CHP guards in the predawn darkness to get to the steel towers, which had been lowered to the ground for the night. The towers are now lowered each evening ever since activist Will Parrish climbed 60 feet into an upright tower, occupying it and shutting down work for eleven days from June 20 to July 1.

Travis Jochimsen and a woman calling herself Blue Heron used welded steel lock boxes to attach themselves to the equipment, placing their arms deep into the metal tubes they had inserted between the tower’s open grid work. “We can’t afford to lose precious water for the sake of an unnecessary freeway, said Jochimsen. “Every day the wick drains aren’t being installed is a victory for farmers, taxpayers and the planet”.
Bypass opponents continue to say the project is unjustified by Caltrans’ own traffic data, pointing to a virtually empty two-lane highway north of town. The empty highway can be seen on  Caltrans’ webcam that records traffic every hour. 
Over 70% of traffic is local and would not be served by the bypass.  “This project is a bonanza for the contractors and a massive loss for everyone else—especially the taxpayers,” said Willits city councilwoman Madge Strong. The controversial project has a “sticker price” of $210 million, but with interest on the prop 1B bonds and the usual cost overruns, the final cost could be as high as $500 million dollars.

A delegation from Willits, including Strong, met with Caltrans Chief Officer Malcolm Dougherty in Sacramento on July 9 to show how Caltrans employees inflated the traffic figures and other data in order to justify a four lane freeway, ignoring less costly and destructive alternatives. Dougherty dismissed the traffic data as irrelevant, although he could not explain why the taxpayers should finance an I-5 style freeway for a rural area that has been losing population for a decade. Caltrans only has sufficient funding for a two-lane bypass at present, yet it is building a massive four lane footprint. Dougherty expressed confidence that plenty of funding will be available in the future.

Breaking news: Reporter/photographer Steve Eberhart of The Willits News was arrested at 7:35 a.m. this morning on the construction site while waiting for his Caltrans escort to arrive

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