The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco District announced July 10 that the conditional suspension of the permit for the $210 million Willits Bypass project has officially been lifted. The Corps met with the California Department of Transportation last week and the two parties agreed on general terms to ensure Caltrans complies with the Corps' Mitigation and Monitoring Plan.
This means that construction on the project was able to resume and continue as long as Caltrans meets the conditions set forth by the Corps. The permit allows Caltrans to construct in wetlands and streams, while rerouting a segment of U.S. Highway 101 around the city of Willits, in Mendocino County. The permit was suspended on June 20, 2014 because Caltrans did not follow through on its schedule for mitigating loss to wetlands.
The suspension was lifted after Caltrans District 1 Director Charles Fielder penned a letter to the Corps that stated Caltrans would develop a plan to follow the project mitigations outlined by the Corps.
“Caltrans has provided a way ahead with a feasible plan to meet their mitigation obligations and move the project forward,” said Lt. Col. John Morrow, commander of the San Francisco District, in a press release. “They have set forth concrete measures that show they are very serious about staying in compliance with the project’s wetland mitigation requirements.”
Caltrans explained in the letter that two conditions will be completed by August 2, 2014, and the third could take many months, and would increase the project costs and impacts to the environment. Caltrans outlined a plan to accelerate work on the mitigation properties, and to update the Mitigation and Monitoring Plan to incorporate additional mitigation for temporal losses.
Some of the milestones that the Corps is holding Caltrans responsible for in order to remain in compliance with the conditions of the permit are:
· Completion of fencing, water line installation, and grazing restrictions by August 2, 2014.
· As a result of failure to implement the mitigation plan concurrently with impacts to waters of the U.S. (Special Condition 1), Caltrans will be responsible for additional acres of wetland establishment and rehabilitation.
· Caltrans will grade and seed with native plants approximately 3-5 acres of wetland establishment in 2014.
· Caltrans will complete a current evaluation of the project design to determine if permanent fill on the bypass project can be reduced.
· Caltrans will also complete an additional Mitigation and Monitoring Plan for the temporal loss created by the Mitigation Project implementation delays.
Failure to meet these deadlines will result in automatic suspension of the permit for non-compliance with the permit conditions.
As part of the project's reinstatement conditions, Caltrans must meet with the District Engineer and staff, no later than August 15, 2014, for an in-person brief and to provide updates on Caltrans’ progress in meeting required mitigation obligations.
Fielder said in the letter to the Corps that the latest permit suspension was costing California approximately $100,000 per day. He also stated that Caltrans has programmed and allocated more than $54 million for project mitigation.
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) propose to construct a new segment of Route 101 that will bypass the City of Willits, in Mendocino County, California. The intention of the bypass is to relieve congestion, reduce delays, and improve safety for interregional traffic. The project limits begin about 0.8 miles south of Haehl Creek Overhead and end about 1.8 miles south of Reynolds Highway, a distance of approximately 5.9 miles.