An environmental group is gearing up to challenge a new dredging operation on the Kaw.
Opponents of a sand company's proposal to dredge the Kansas River hope to flood government agencies with requests for a public hearing on the matter.
Friends of the Kaw is trying to foil Victory Sand & Gravel Co.'s attempt to get a permit to dredge on 72.5 acres the Merriam-based company owns just across the Jefferson County line.
``In our opinion, it definitely would be an environmental hazard,'' said Lawrence attorney Lance Burr, an organizer of the opposition.
Jack Carson, president of Victory, did not return phone calls seeking comment. However, Carson has denied in previous interviews and in his dredging application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the project would threaten the river's stability.
Robert Smith, a Corps of Engineers ecologist who evaluates dredging-permit applications, said he had not yet visited the site and couldn't speak to the validity of claims on either side of the issue.
The Corps set Thursday as the deadline for making written requests for a public hearing. Smith said people who write the Corps' Kansas City, Mo., office should outline their reasons for wanting the hearing.
In addition to asking individuals to press for a hearing, Friends of the Kaw has appealed to elected officials in Douglas County, arguing that dredging upstream could affect the river near Lawrence.
The Lawrence City Commission agreed last week to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold a public hearing on Victory's application, and the Douglas County Commission will vote Monday on whether to send a similar letter.
Friends of the Kaw maintains that the site of the proposed dredging operation, which is near the Hamm Quarries on U.S. Highway 24, could trigger riverbank erosion and stir up atrazine and other toxic chemicals on the river bottom. That could pose a threat to the Lawrence water supply, since the city's intake is downstream from the dredging site, Burr said.
The group also says the project would destroy riparian woodlands that are habitat for bald eagles and other animals and could trigger a destabilization of the city of Lawrence's abandoned landfill, which is buried in a former river channel downstream.
Going with the flow
Wakefield Dort, a Kansas University professor of geology, said the proposed dredging site is located in one of the most volatile stretches of the Kansas River, where major channel changes have occurred since the mid-1800s. Theoretically, another channel shift could wash out the landfill, he said.
``In my mind, the major danger is the resurrection of the dump,'' Dort said. ``It would be great if the sand and gravel people would go upriver about four or five miles where the river has been stable for about 125 years.''
Lawrence City Manager Mike Wildgen said city officials are concerned about the potential for problems from dredging but aren't convinced that dredging needs to be prohibited.
``It's the specter of this as opposed to the reality of it,'' he said, noting that dredging opponents have raised a flurry of issues that may overwhelm people.
To be safe, the city apprised the Kansas Department of Health and Environment last year of local concerns and asked the state to help monitor threats to the river and the local water supply.
``We'll be relying on the people who issue the permits,'' Wildgen said, explaining that city staff does not have the expertise to evaluate proposals like Victory's.
A history of opposition
This is not the first time Victory Sand & Gravel has clashed with Friends of the Kaw. Last year the company withdrew an application to dredge in Douglas County, half a mile downstream from the current site. Carson has said he withdrew that application because of proximity to the abandoned landfill.
Carson has said his company adheres to federal and state regulations that protect the river and that restrictions on the amount of sand that can be taken from a given location have forced his company to seek new dredging sites.
Victory also has dredging operations in Topeka, DeSoto and Bonner Springs, but Carson has said production at those locations does not meet the demand for his sand, which is used in concrete construction.