Archive for Tuesday, February 21, 1995

JULY SLT HEARING UPSETS HASKELL

February 21, 1995

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Trafficway planners are defending their plan to hold a hearing on routing options this summer, when university students are gone.

The president of Haskell Indian Nations University said he was ``disappointed'' by a proposed schedule for taking public comment on the routing of the South Lawrence Trafficway.

The Federal Highway Administration has proposed holding a public hearing on the project's supplemental environmental impact statement on July 20.

``... We are disappointed with this expedited schedule,'' Haskell President Bob Martin said in a statement released today. ``By scheduling the hearings for July, Haskell student participation in this process will be minimized.''

However, Douglas County Commissioner Mark Buhler said he supported the tentative schedule.

``We want to move the process along as best we can,'' he said.

The proposal grants a request by Martin that his university have until May 5 to submit information to be included in the draft SEIS. However, it rejects Martin's request that the hearing be postponed until fall when Haskell is in session.

The SEIS process will determine, probably this fall, whether the trafficway's route east of U.S. Highway 59 will pass through the southern end of the Haskell campus and near sites that American Indians hold sacred. The supplement was ordered after Haskell complained that its concerns were not addressed in the original impact statement, which was approved in 1990.

``Since the SEIS was issued because Haskell's interests were not protected in the original SEIS process, it is crucial that hearings be scheduled at a time to maximize public involvement as dictated by the National Environmental Policy Act,'' Martin's statement said.

John Pasley, Douglas County's SLT project director, said trafficway planners are compensating for holding the public hearing in July by adding an extra step designed to give Haskell a greater opportunity for input this spring.

``We're going to show our cards before they show theirs,'' Pasley said. ``We're going to put all our stuff together so the students can comment on it and start working on it before they leave'' for the summer.

The FHwA, which is coordinating the SEIS process, plans to release a first draft of the SEIS on April 17. Haskell would have until May 5 to submit information to be attached to the draft, including an environmental inventory of its wetlands and an archeological survey of culturally and historically significant sites in the area.

Government agencies originally had planned to set a deadline for input into the draft this month, to release a draft in March and to hold a hearing in May. Those plans were scrapped when Haskell sought the May 5 deadline.

``The thing we want to emphasize here is that we're doing something extra,'' Pasley said of the plan to release the draft April 17 but to allow Haskell to respond to it in information submitted by May 5.

He said the draft SEIS would not recommend a route but would contain a matrix showing the features of various alignment proposals. A final determination probably would be made in October.

Pasley said it wouldn't be prudent for the planning agencies to delay the SEIS process to accommodate Haskell students in this particular instance.

``We've had two extensions already at their request,'' he said. ``We've got to get on with it. It's costing $100,000 a month in inflation.''

Mark Sehr, a FHwA traffic engineer, said the schedule isn't firm. It's possible the trafficway planners will hold hearings in both summer and fall, he said.

Sehr and Pasley said the schedule for releasing the draft this spring would allow students more time to offer written input.

``We're going to run into a different bunch of students next fall,'' Sehr said. ``Our goal was to get it far enough along this spring so that we'd be working with the students we've been involved with.''

Hannes Combest, Martin's assistant, insisted that students were being cut out of the process.

``Scheduling a July 20 public hearing, when they're nowhere to be found, is going to accomplish this?" she said. "That doesn't make sense to me."

As of this morning, Combest said Haskell had not received a copy of the proposed schedule and FHwA cover letter addressed to Martin and dated last Wednesday. Haskell officials became aware of the letter's existence when asked for comment by the Journal-World.

Pasley said the letter was mailed last week from Topeka and that he had expected Haskell officials to receive it Friday.

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