Huffman Statement on Willits Bypass
WASHINGTON-Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) released the following statement today following a conference call he convened with Caltrans and the United States Army Corps of Engineer regarding the Willits Bypass:
"The Willits Bypass is a project of great regional significance. My predecessor, Representative Mike Thompson, worked tirelessly to advance this project to address Highway 101 traffic problems and improve the quality of life and economy for the Willits community. Over the course of many years, a lengthy and deliberative public process helped develop and refine the project, culminating in the granting of all necessary state and federal permits, the securing of public funding, and the awarding of construction contracts in 2012.
Construction was getting underway when I took office in January of 2013, and today tens of millions of dollars have been spent and a significant amount of Phase 1 construction is finished. While I was not part of the process that led to the approval and building of this project, I respect the process and decisions that predate my time as Congressman for Mendocino County and am committed to the successful completion of this work. A Willits Bypass is going to happen. My interest is in getting it over the finish line in the most timely and cost-effective way possible.
Critical to that goal is resolving Caltrans' non-compliance with environmental mitigation requirements in its Clean Water Act permit from the United States Corps of Engineers. No one disputes that Caltrans is bound by those permit requirements including additional mitigation actions to address the loss of wetlands due to project delays; nor is there any question that Caltrans has not fully complied with those requirements. That's why the Army Corps temporarily suspended the permit on June 20, 2014. And that's why for the past three weeks, Caltrans and the Army Corps have been exchanging letters about what specific mitigation actions Caltrans must take, and the timeframe for those actions, so that the permit can be reinstated.
In the meantime, some work on the project has been halted, construction crews have been idled, and substantial additional costs are being incurred with each passing day. Clearly, this impasse must be resolved quickly. The stakes are too high for pointing fingers, scapegoating or endlessly exchanging letters between agencies. The situation requires leadership and problem solving by everyone involved.
Toward that end, my staff and I have been in almost daily contact with both agencies over the past three weeks urging resolution of the permit compliance problem. I have personally met with and had multiple phone calls with officials from both agencies, and today I convened an emergency conference call that included the key leaders from both agencies as well as my predecessor and colleague, Representative Thompson.
I'm pleased to report that there was significant progress today, in large part because the agencies are now talking directly to each other instead of just exchanging letters. Based on statements made to me and Congressman Thompson in our phone conference, I believe the two agencies are working diligently and in good faith toward a resolution within the next 24-48 hours that should enable the reinstatement of the Army Corps permit and the resumption of work on the project, while ensuring full compliance by Caltrans with its Clean Water Act obligations.
I appreciate the responsiveness of both the Army Corps and Caltrans in working with me and Congressman Thompson, and more importantly with each other, in the spirit of urgency this situation demands. Continued hard work and commitment from both agencies will be needed going forward to ensure that Phase 1 of the project is completed without additional delays, disruptions or costs to the taxpayers.”