Baker University has decided that to preserve its wetlands, it must give up ownership of the natural area.
Baker University knocked the South Lawrence Trafficway debate off dead center this morning by announcing plans to deed its 573-acre wetland area to the citizens of Douglas County.
``The events of the last few years make it clear that standing alone, the university cannot hope to protect its wetlands,'' Baker President Dan Lambert said at a press conference this morning.
Lambert said the university would create a public trust requiring that the property, located south of 31st Street, between Haskell Avenue and Louisiana Street, continue to be managed as wetlands. Baker would continue its funding of the wetlands, he said.
``The primary objective is to build a sense of ownership by the people of Douglas County in what we believe is an invaluable resource,'' Lambert said.
The public trust is one of several steps Lambert proposed to move public debate forward and to provide alternatives to a proposed 35th Street alignment for the eastern segment of the trafficway.
The proposals were hailed by public officials and community leaders, who said Baker had introduced new alternatives into the process of resolving the alignment dispute.
``In 10 years of working with this project, I've not heard a more thoughtful statement than Dan Lambert made today,'' said Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben.
``I think they're clearly making attempts to solve the problem,'' said Douglas County Commissioner Mark Buhler.
Lambert reaffirmed Baker's support for putting the eastern segment of the trafficway on the 31st Street alignment originally chosen by trafficway planners. That route would take the road along the northern border of the Baker property and destroy the least amount of wetlands, Lambert said.
However, Haskell Indian Nations University has argued that the 31st Street alignment, which would pass across the southern border of its campus, would severely affect the school's educational and spiritual programs. A supplemental environmental impact statement, due to be completed in 1995, will resolve the route question.
A stern Lambert dispelled any notion that Baker would accept a 35th Street alignment without a legal fight.
``Baker University will oppose, with all the resources at its disposal, the 35th Street alternative recently advocated by county officials,'' Lambert said.
He explained that the 35th Street route, which would bisect the Baker property and destroy 40 acres of wetlands, would destroy the area's natural balance.
``If the proposed route goes through 35th Street, we're out of the wetlands business. It's not a matter of compromise, we'll have to quit,'' he said.
Lambert said Baker has offered to give Haskell ``a generous portion'' of the wetlands, along the Wakarusa River, if Haskell will accept a 31st Street route. That undetermined amount of land would afford a place for Haskell to conduct the medicine wheel and purification ceremonies that are part of Native American religion.
In a prepared statement released this morning, Haskell President Bob Martin said he would not respond to the proposals until they were presented in writing. Haskell remains opposed to the 31st Street alignment.
``Should Haskell not accept our offer, (Baker) University would not contest 38th Street as an alternative for the South Lawrence Trafficway,'' Lambert said.
That route, which would take the trafficway along the Wakarusa River, would destroy about 25 acres of wetlands and would require a mitigation plan and payment, Lambert said.