Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

Sara Grusky: Pricing the Priceless — Willits Bypass and the Willits Wetlands…

In Around Mendo Island on December 17, 2013 at 7:50 am

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From SARA GRUSKY
Green Uprising Farm
Willits

Caltrans says that Mr.  Will Parrish owes them about a half  million dollars ($481,588 to be exact) to cover the “direct and indirect costs” of the delays in the construction of the Willits Hwy 101 freeway bypass.   These costs were incurred, according to Caltrans, during Will Parrish’s 11 day occupation of the contractor’s wick drain machine in his attempt to stop the largest wetlands fill operation in northern California in half a century.  Caltrans seeks to bill Mr. Parrish for this half million dollars.  They have informed the District Attorney’s office that they wish to include these claims for “restitution” in connection with Mr. Parrish’s prosecution for unlawful entry onto Caltrans’ project site in the case of  People v. Parrish.  Mr. Parrish’s case is currently scheduled to be heard in Mendocino Superior Court onJanuary 27, 2014 at 8:30 am.  Please attend this important event.

I requested a copy of Caltrans’ half a million dollar itemized budget through the California Public Records Act and received it a couple of days ago.  It is quite an extraordinary piece of accounting by the entity that is now the landowner of one-third of Little Lake Valley.  On behalf of concerned citizens, I am submitting to the District Attorney’s office a counter claim, an itemized budget of the price tag for the wetlands of Little Lake Valley (see below).

Let’s consider the history.  Concerned citizens tried for about four decades to convince  public officials that there were better alternatives to Caltrans’ overbuilt, overpriced and destructive Hwy 101 bypass.  These concerned citizens spent decades  meeting with regulatory agencies, lobbying elected officials, signing petitions, writing letters, organizing educational forums, filing lawsuits, and finally, when all else failed, resorting to non-violent civil disobedience.  In March, Caltrans’ flexed its muscle, dug in its heels, ignored the cheaper and less destructive bypass options, and began building the overpriced monstrosity requiring the largest wetlands fill in Northern California in half a century.   I have some questions about the economic assumptions upon which  Caltrans’ financial claim for restitution is based.

1. Caltrans claims Mr. Parrish caused its contractor, Flatiron, to lose money by delaying the construction.  If there is a genuine concern about wasting taxpayer money, shouldn’t the less expensive and less destructive bypass options have been considered?

2. Despite these other options, Caltrans is using taxpayer’s money to wick-drain and fill the wetlands in order to build their preferred bypass option.  Caltrans’ mitigaton plan supposedly compensates for this wetlands destruction.  Does Caltrans’ decision mean the assessment has been made that these wetlands are more economically valuable as a freeway than as a wetlands?

3. In Caltrans’ accounting system does the wetlands only have economic value when it is being wick-drained to become a freeway and/or when someone is stopping it from being wick-drained to become a freeway?

It is expensive for Caltrans to build a freeway — especially a freeway over a wetlands.  And, if Caltrans has its way, it will be costly to stand in the way of  building a freeway.  But, how do you measure the value of a wetlands?  To value something means to esteem it or to treasure it.  But, it also means to assign it a monetary value.  If Caltrans can assign monetary value to the delays associated with NOT being able to wick-drain the wetlands surely we can assign monetary value to preserving the wetlands.  Here’s a start.

LITTLE LAKE VALLEY WETLANDS – Itemized Budget
Prime habitat for deer and elk …$infinity$
Habitat for Chinook, Coho, steelhead, bass …$infinity$
Habitat for Cinnamon teal, warbler, heron, ducks, coot, flycatcher …$infinity$
Habitat for turtles, frogs, sunfish …$infinity$
Diverse mychorrhizae of wetland soil …$infinity$
Home for valley, oregon white and black oaks (some ancient) …$infinity$
Home for willow, cottonwood, elderberry, ash, madrone, alder …$infinity$
Habitat for many grasses such as semaphore, meadowfoam, bluegrass …$infinity$
And other grasses such as velvet grass, bent grass, oatgrass, fescue, etc …$infinity$
Wetlands serving the vital function for flood control …$infinity$
Wetlands serving as a basin to hold water to fill ground water aquifers …$infinity$
Wetlands serving to control erosion and sedimentation …$infinity$
Wetlands serving as nature’s finest water filter …$infinity$
Preservation of the Pomo cultural heritage for future generations …$infinity$
Future of the Little Lake Valley watershed …$infinity$
Future of Haehl, Baechtel, Broaddus, Upp, Mill, Outlet and other creeks …$infinity$

Total ….Priceless

I would like to request that the District Attorney’s office please consider the above budget in the case of People v. Parrish.
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  1. I wok up this morning thinking about this very subject that Sara has so graciously laid out before us. Thank you, Sara.

    My thoughts were running along slightly different lines, however. I was mulling over the untold unpaid hours that war veterans, military veterans, doctors, lawyers, local business people, ranchers, farmers, the environmentally concerned, and pretty much the local populace of the Little Lake Valley and its surrounds, have logged trying to get a bypass that serves their community. In the past year alone I personally observed thousands of hours spent by concerned citizens trying to get the Caltrans Bypass to be something to be proud of and useful to the community. These uncompensated hours would add up to millions of dollars which I believe we should bill Caltrans for.

    Then there are the costs to locals trying to go about their daily lives and being routed around the valley by road closures. There are future costs. The lost revenues to local business from traffic being routed around Willits will be considerable, and enough, according to Caltrans experts to cause 26 or more businesses to shut their doors.

    If each of the frustrated people of Mendocino County wrote out their own bill for their time that was wasted by Caltrans, I’m pretty sure Will’s bill would pale by comparison.

    The loss of life (plants and animals) and land cannot be justified by this grossly overblown project. The mitigation plan was failed before it was even started. This project cannot be mitigated which is why political pressure was necessary to get the Army Corps of Engineers to agree to it.

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