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CHP, Caltrans block food, water deliveries to Willits protesters

Published: Monday, March 25, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 8:10 a.m.

Tree-sitters in Willits were met with an ultimatum from the CHP this weekend after protesters looking to deliver fresh supplies were denied access into the Highway 101 bypass construction zone.

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Amanda Senseman, nicknamed Warbler, is staging a tree-sitting protest to the Highway 101 Willits bypass project, south of Willits, on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013.

PD FILE, 2013

"We're not denying the tree-sitters food and water," said CHP Capt. George Peck on Monday. "If they want it, they can come down and get it themselves."

A man attempting to deliver food to the tree-sitters within the construction site Saturday was turned away by CHP officers, said Sara Grusky, an organizer for Save Our Little Lake Valley.

The CHP agreed to refrain from arresting the three tree-sitters if they voluntarily remove themselves from the trees, said Mendocino County Caltrans official Phil Frisbie.

Construction of the $210 million bypass around Willits, started Feb. 25, was stalled for a week because of birds nests found along the route, then resumed earlier this month.

The Willits bypass controversy sparked a number of demonstrations last week, with eight protesters arrested for trespassing within the construction zone and more than 80 construction workers rallying downtown calling for an end to the bypass delays.

Frisbie had originally stated Friday that food and water deliveries could be made as long as protesters did not interfere with construction.

The decision to end access and deliveries to the tree-sitters was mutually made between both CHP and Caltrans over the weekend, Frisbie said. It came after Caltrans delivered official notice to all three tree-sitters Friday that they were trespassing within a construction zone.

"I'm very concerned about them," said Grusky, who was one of those arrested Thursday. "I just don't want anyone to get hurt."

Amanda Senseman, 24, has been sitting in a pine tree just off of Highway 101 since Jan. 28. On March 18, two unidentified men in their mid-20s mounted similar protests, taking up residence in two pine trees directly in the path of construction.

Senseman said Monday she did have some food stockpiled, but declined to state how much or how long she might be able to sustain herself on it. "I'm just planning on sitting here and staying," she said.

Grusky estimated Senseman had at least 10 days worth of food left. Will Parrish, who has been monitoring the other two tree-sitters, said he estimated the men there have from two to four days worth of food left.

Peck said the CHP would maintain a no-access stance as long as necessary, saying it was up to the protesters how long it would continue.

"If they're hungry, they can climb down," Peck said.

A CHP helicopter was sent to the scenes of both tree protests to take 360-degree photos Monday afternoon, Grusky said.

Peck confirmed Grusky's statement, adding the helicopter was primarily sent to monitor the health and safety of all three tree-sitters.

"We wanted to make sure they were safe and weren't ill," Peck said. "They all looked healthy."

Parrish questioned the use of the helicopter, saying the CHP could've communicated with the tree-sitters about their health directly from the ground.

"I find it pretty implausible for (the CHP) to say the helicopter was for a health update," Parrish said.

Construction near the East Hill Road site continued through the weekend. Protesters stationed near the other site on the East Hill side expressed concerns about the men's safety.

Trees were felled within 10 feet of the men, said Matt Chandler, who was also among those arrested Thursday.

Frisbie said Caltrans had contacted their tree contractor and were assured that safety protocols are in place.

"They are not felling any trees that would endanger the tree-sitters," Frisbie said.

Though no time frame has been set if the tree-sitters choose not to comply with Caltrans and CHP's requests, Frisbie stated that the time for their removal was "imminent."

You can reach Staff Writer Melody Karpinski at 521-5205 or Melody.Karpinski @pressdemocrat.com

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