Willits Bypass

From the Wall Street Journal:

Dan Arkelian and John Ford

Dan Arkelian, left, gets instructions for taking cattle to the slaughterhouse from ranch owner John Ford at his Mendocino County ranch.

WILLITS, Calif.—The construction of a long-sought highway bypass around this small town in Mendocino County has spurred a unusual dispute over whether ranchers should be allowed grazing rights in an area set aside as wetlands.

The conflict pits the California Department of Transportation, which has wanted to accommodate ranching displaced by the road construction, against the Army Corps of Engineers, which says it is following a federal mandate to protect vulnerable wetlands. Caught in the middle are a handful of ranchers, who say their livelihood is being threatened just as demand for locally produced beef is growing.

A group of four cattlemen stand to lose most of their summer grazing land—about 1,000 acres—under restrictions proposed by the Corps of Engineers. The restrictions are intended to replace wetlands being acquired by Caltrans to build the proposed U.S. Highway 101 bypass around this city of 5,000 residents. The bypass project, planned for nearly 50 years, is designed to alleviate notorious traffic bottlenecks in the area without having a highway cut through the center of town.

Read the complete story here.