We recently ran a letter by Willits citizens Donna Kerr and Bob Whitney, representing “Mendocino County Citizens For Responsible Transportation,” describing how misallocated transportation funds are being used for the Willits Bypass for “political” reasons rather than dealing with real traffic problems both in Willits and other congested areas of the state. (https://www.theava.com/archives/14533) Kerr and Whitney made a number of very valid points which neither Caltrans, the Mendocino Council of Governments (which is sitting on millions of local transportation dollars that should go to repair or upgrade of local roads), nor the State’s Transportation Commission are likely to respond to. Kerr and Whitney didn’t mention right-of-way acquisition costs (which certainly benefited a number of Willits property owners who supposedly got “fair market value” for their property in the vicinity of the Bypass route). Since Caltrans hasn’t provided a list of who sold what property at what price, we can’t assess how much has already been spent on right of way acquisition. But, Kerr and Whitney provided a separate run-down of how much has been spent just for “wetlands mitigation” – i.e., acquiring land or rights to land which will offset the wetlands which Caltrans calculates will be lost due to Bypass construction.
Here’s Kerr and Whitney’s supplemental table of wetlands mitigation:
“Mitigation expense for the proposed Willits Bypass Project will be more than $60 million
At almost $60 million, the proposed Willits Bypass estimated mitigation cost has only been calculated for actions related to the US Army Corps of Engineers 404 permit to offset the impact on wetlands. Wetland mitigation costs for the proposed 5.9-mile highway will be over $10 million per mile.
So far, the almost $60 million estimated mitigation cost to offset the impact on wetlands is as follows:
• Mitigation land acquisition, almost 2,000 acres: $16,000,000
• Mitigation construction costs (minus Ryan Creek): $17,850,000
• Ryan Creek Fish Passage Project: $3,000,000
• Mitigation short-term endowment: $11,290,021
• Mitigation long-term endowment: $11,781,165
• Total USACE- related mitigation: $59,921,186
• Wetland mitigation cost per mile (5.9 miles) : $10,170,000
In addition, the project will be required to provide additional funds, yet to be identified, for mitigation with the California Fish and Game Code Section 1602 streambed alteration and Section 2081 incidental take permit, the Regional Water Board Clean Water Act Section 401 certification, and the National Marine Fisheries Service incidental take permit. Total mitigation expense for the proposed Willits Bypass Project will be more than $60 million. (Source: Chapter 13 Financial Assurances, Willits Bypass Project Mitigation and Monitoring Proposal, January 2012, Caltrans.)”
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Add this to the right of way acquisition costs and we’re talking about a huge influx of probably well over $100 million in cash just for land and land rights to a small number of local Willits property owners. Although Kerr and Whitney rightly describe this as “politics,” we can also describe the process as “cash — millions of dollars for Willits landowners” for property which otherwise would have been hard to sell in the local real estate market. This may better explain why transportation officials in charge of this highly questionable project -- which is now past the point of no return -- so assiduously ignore such trivialities as the unstable geology of the Willits-Little Lake Valley or the much greater need for traffic improvements both in Willits' well-known hazardous chokepoints and other areas of the state.