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Caltrans suspends construction for most of Willits Bypass Project

WILLITS- Most of the construction on the Willits Bypass Project will come to a halt on Tuesday.  The decision by Caltrans comes after the Army Corps of Engineers suspended permits for the project last month.

When Caltrans officials received a letter from the Army Corps of Engineers in June, which stated permits were conditionally suspended, the letter cited several reasons.

“Some of them include that we hadn't been working on the mitigation project as quickly as they anticipated.  And that they claim that we had not updated some information, such as the mitigation schedule, and assurances that we can provide funding for the full mitigation," said Phil Frisbie, Jr., the Public Information Officer for Caltrans, District 1.

But Caltrans officials say they were surprised at some of the stated issues.

“For example, an updated mitigation schedule, we had emailed them copies and actually handed them a copy at a previous meeting earlier this year.  And also a letter of financial assurance that they were concerned that it wasn't complete enough,” Frisbie, Jr. said.

After both sides met to discuss these issues over two weeks ago, Caltrans submitted a letter addressing these concerns. The Army Corps of Engineers has not responded to that letter.  Now, Caltrans says continuing on some but not all parts of the project is too inefficient to maintain.

"Because there's so much uncertainty, we needed to notify the contractor that, at the end of tomorrow, Tuesday, that our plans are that we're going to suspend the project.  That could change, because we're still hoping that we can resolve this any day, but we need to be good stewards of the state funds," said Frisbie, Jr.

Officials say the delays have already increased the project cost by $800,000.  They say the sooner the Army Corps of Engineers lifts the suspension, the better.

"If it occurs this week, then there will be probably in just the few millions of dollars in extra delays costs by the time we ramp the project back up.  If it lasts a month or two, we could be looking at eight to 12 million dollars, because we'll lose another entire season," Frisbie, Jr. said.

Two portions of the project, which don’t need the Army Corps of Engineers permits, will continue to be worked on. However, Caltrans officials say if the suspension isn’t lifted, they will work on several stream beds in the project, violating the suspension.

"If it's left how it is, there would be major erosion control issues which would potentially harm fisheries and the creeks," said Frisbie, Jr.

Caltrans and officials with the Army Corps of Engineers could have a meeting later this week, where a timeline for possibly lifting the suspension could be provided.