Morning News for Tuesday, March 12th
The California Coastal Commission Friday unanimously rejected a Navy explosives and sonar training program off the Southern California coast that critics said could harm endangered blue whales.
Commissioners said that the Navy lacked enough information to back up its argument that the threat to marine mammals would be negligible.
Commissioners said they are concerned the increased activity could be detrimental for endangered mammals such as the blue, fin and beaked whales.
Alex Stone, who directs the Navy's environmental team, told commissioners that additional marine safeguards being sought by the panel would limit the training program's scope and make it less realistic.
The panel and the Navy could now seek mediation to iron out their differences - or the Navy could simply choose to proceed with the training scheduled to begin in January, as it did after the commission requested additional protections in 2007 and 2009.
If talks fail, the commission could sue to try to force the Navy to adopt the measures, as it has done in the past but unsuccessfully.
After the vote, Stone said the Navy wants to reach an agreement with the state agency but stood by its arguments .
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has halted construction along the Willits bypass corridor while reviewing Caltrans survey protocols regarding the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The department hopes to finish the review by the end of this week, Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist JoAnn Dunn said.
”It's important prior to disturbing any vegetation during the breeding bird nesting season that we make sure no birds are nesting in that area,” Dunn said. “The fish and game code protects birds in their nest, so it's important to make sure surveys are done to make sure no birds or nests are taken.”
Fish and Wildlife shut down the construction at the end of February after a bird's nest was found knocked out of a tree, and another was discovered on the ground.
Environmental Protection Information Center Director Gary Hughes said ”We are challenging this project because we believe it does not meet the transportation needs of either the local community in Willits or the regional community that depends on Highway 101,” this project requires the largest wetlands fill permit to be issued in Northern California in 50 years.”
Caltrans hopes to resume work next week.
Fourteen more positions are being eliminated as the Willits Unified School District attemts to return to financial solvency. The layoffs will take place at the end of this school year.
The WUSD budget still projects a shortfall of at least $600,000 for the next school year. Declining student enrollment hit the district hard during this reporting session. A loss of 26 students from the average daily attendance dropped district revenue from the state by $137,551.
The next meeting of the Willits Unified School District Board of Trustees will be held March 26.
Impoverished Californians, including those who are homeless, soon will be able to get free cellphones and service thanks to the recent expansion of a statewide program.
Two wireless carriers are now offering free phones and monthly plans for 250 minutes and 250 text messages to all those who can prove that they make less than $14,702 a year.
Reach Out Wireless and Assurance Wireless, an arm of Sprint, will provide the phones free of charge, and will be reimbursed $9.25 by the FCC's federal Lifeline program to cover the cost of services, FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said.
The program does not do a background check on applicants' criminal or health histories, nor does it set guidelines restricting the type of calls that can be made, he added.