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Willits Highway 101 bypass project's grading permit revoked

  • A protester along Highway 101 near the bypass site earlier this year. (PD File)

Mendocino County officials on Wednesday revoked a grading permit that provided fill to the Willits bypass project, rendering moot environmentalists' request for a temporary restraining order.

It's a victory for bypass opponents, but it won't have much impact on the $210 million, 5.9-mile Highway 101 project, Caltrans officials said.

As early as Thursday, the project's fill source will be switched from the now-unpermitted mill site just north of Willits to a Caltrans construction site south of town, said Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie. The soil is needed to fill wetlands at the north end of town.

The legal action over fill dirt was the latest skirmish in the ongoing battle over the bypass, which has triggered another, still-pending lawsuit and multiple protests and arrests.

Opponents say the bypass, as designed, is unnecessary, ugly, destroys important wetlands and could affect fish and underground aquifers.

The Willits Environmental Center and Keep the Code filed the latest lawsuit on Friday. It claimed the county skirted mining and environmental regulations when it issued a grading permit to Mendocino Forest Products for the old mill site. The company wants to make the site more level to increase its usefulness.

Mendocino County Counsel Tom Parker said a decision to rescind the permit was made Wednesday morning — hours before a judge was scheduled to hear the restraining order request — after a review indicated procedural errors may have been made.

Because fill dirt will now be coming from south of Willits, Caltrans will be running the fill-hauling trucks at night to avoid further clogging traffic through town, Frisbie said.

Traffic jams on Main Street, where Highway 101 narrows to two lanes, is the primary stated reason for the bypass.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.

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