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Some people call this the David and Goliath story, Native Americans, farmers, environmentalists, school teachers and students, a sizable minority in a small former logging town of under 5,000 inhabitants in Northern California stand up against one of the most powerful agencies in any state, Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation. And against the multinational corporation behind Caltrans, Hochtief, and its subsidiary Flatiron. Why Caltrans had to go across the ocean to hand taxpayer money to a freeway builder is a mystery. Unless you believe that only the corporation that built the Autobahn for Adolph Hitler has the credentials to do this very difficult job.
The $210 million plus freeway bypass around Willits, CA, goes through 86 acres of federally protected wetlands and across five Salmon streams and its 6 mile stretch requires building overpasses, a one mile viaduct, rerouting streams, and draining this ancient seasonal wetland. And the destruction is well under way by June 2014.
Agencies tasked with overseeing the work issued warnings to Caltrans regarding violations of the Clean Water Act, failure to protect Pomo Indian archeological sites, to protect salmon spawning creeks, and failure to comply with the conditions of the permit. However mysteriously - or maybe not - someone in the background was always able to persuade the State Senator, the local Congressman, and the agencies to stop enforcement.
What caused a sudden turn of events is unclear. On Friday, June 20, the Army Corps of Engineers, after an inspection of the work-site, suspended the permit for the Caltrans Willits Bypass. The Corps of Engineers regulate impacts on federally protected wetlands.
Six days later AIM came to town. The American Indian Movement has an ongoing presence since it's founding in 1968. AIM West out of the Bay Area conducts annual Spirit Runs and this year, 2014, the run culminated in Willits in support of the Little Lake Pomo whose archeological sites had been destroyed by the Bypass contractors.
This program is a record of the welcome of the Spirit Runners at an event under the tall shade trees of the Willits City Park.
Speakers in the order of appearance:
Edwina Lincoln, Round Valley Indian Reservation
Priscilla Hunter, former Tribal Chair of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians
Will Parrish, journalist
Ellen Drell, cofounder of the Willits Environmental Center
Madge Strong, Willits City Council member
Ending with a joint speech by Priscilla Hunter and Pauline Girvin, consultant to the Coyote Band of Pomo Indians