Willits bypass project dead,' officials say
The Willits bypass project is at a halt after more than 50 years of planning, officials reported Tuesday.
The topic came up when 3rd District Supervisor John Pinches noted an item on the consent calendar - a list of items that are voted on as a block because they are expected to be non-controversial - that would have raised funding to the Mendocino Private Industry Council, a jobs training program, by $300,000.
"In light of what happened yesterday with the Willits Bypass, it doesn't seem like there are jobs being created," he said. "Why are we spending money for training people when there are no jobs?"
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Phil Dow of MCOG was called for an update, and told the board the council got a conditional funding agreement from Caltrans in June for about $126. million for the bypass. One of the conditions was that four permits were needed, one of them from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"We knew at time that the chief obstacle was the Army Corps of Engineers, which has control over wetlands, and we knew this was the largest wetlands take of any project handled by the Army Corps in the state of California. Everyone's known that for 15 years," Dow said.
After getting the three other permits needed, Caltrans met with the Army Corps "to decide what needed to be done to get a decision on the remaining permit" and developed a list of materials the Army Corps would need, with dates of delivery through 2012, according to Dow.
The materials were delivered according to an agreed-on schedule through Aug. 16, and the Army Corps told Caltrans to "back off" while the Corps reviewed the materials and made its decision on the final permit, according to Dow.
"We got word last Friday that their intent was not to issue a permit for the project," Dow said.
Thompson was in the area and called a meeting Monday with Caltrans and the Army Corps in his Napa office, according to Dow.
Dow, who attended by teleconference, said the reason the Army Corps gave for not signing the permit was that it didn't have enough information, and didn't have "the discretion to issue a conditional permit."
Dow questioned why, if they couldn't issue the permit, they agreed on a list of needed items through 2012.
"They couldn't answer other than to apolojize for the confusion," Dow said.
He said discussion between the attorneys for Caltrans and the Army Corps indicated the Army Corps does have discretion to issue conditional permits when the wetlands take is small, and when the project footprint is small. That raised the question of whether the Army Corps ever meant to issue the permit, Dow said.
He said contsruction was to start by next spring, and the project was to generate hundreds jobs for about four years.
"The jobs thing is bigger than the traffic issue at this point," Dow said. "Now that's not going to happen."