The American Indian Spirit Run calls Attention to Caltrans and Global Construction Corporations
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.
In spite of arbitrary arrests of journalists and never before seen extraction of tree sitters at gun point an effort was maintained to appeal to regulatory agencies, use the courts to stop or at least reduce the impact of the construction. Agencies issued warnings to Caltrans, however mysteriously – or maybe not – someone in the background was always able to persuade the State Senator, the local congressman, the agencies to not follow up.
What caused a sudden turn of events is unclear. On Friday, June 20, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) 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. The Spirit Runners were welcomed by about 250 members and supporters of Save Our Little Lake Valley. And under the tall shade trees of the City Park we shared a meal and heard speeches and listen to songs with the huge AIM drum in the middle of the circle.
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, co-founder of the Willits Environmental Center
Madge Strong, Willits City Council woman
ending with a joint speech by Priscilla Hunter and Pauline Girvin, consultant to the Coyote Band of Pomo Indians