One of the unanswered questions posed to CalTrans environmental personnel at this month's Willits bypass presentation was whether the new project would be managed to avoid the environmental problems experienced during the recent Confusion Hill project.

With a $239 million estimate, the Willits bypass is significantly larger than the $70 million Confusion Hill project, and is being managed out of the same District 1 CalTrans office.

The public comment period on the CalTrans 401 permit for the Willits bypass is expected to open within the next few weeks, with CalTrans expecting to receive its final permit to begin construction in June.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board alleges that during construction of the Confusion Hill bypass, CalTrans violated its 401 Clean Water Act permit 154 separate times and had 141 days of violation during the construction period between August 17, 2006, and June 1, 2007.

NCWQCB Assistant Executive Officer Luis G. Rivera recommended in August 2009 that CalTrans pay a $1.5 million fine for the violations out of the possible $3 million maximum that could have been levied.

According to the complaint, "the discharger [CalTrans] easily could have avoided many of the violations included in this order had it simply used adequate best management practices and timely reported the violations. CalTrans was warned in the two notices of violation that many of the BMPs utilized at Confusion Hill were inadequate and had resulted in violations of the Water Quality Certification and Storm Water Permit, but failed to take corrective measures."