Perry — Opponents of a Kansas River sand-dredging proposal won't know for several months whether their efforts have been successful.
If a crowd of about 175 that gathered Tuesday evening at Perry-Lecompton High School were deciding the fate of a Kansas River dredging proposal, a Merriam-based company would be looking elsewhere for sand.
``It's very unusual that a proposal like this draws such uniform opposition," said Topeka attorney and environmentalist Bob Eye. ``If the corps does not turn down this permit based on the information that has been presented, there is, I would submit, no permit that can be turned down.''
Eye was one of more than three dozen people who took the podium during a four-hour hearing to tell U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials why the corps should deny an application by Victory Sand & Gravel Co. to install a dredging operation on the Kansas River near Perry.
The plant would be off U.S. Highway 24, near the Hamm Quarries and about six miles upstream from the Bowersock Dam.
Supply and demand
Victory officials say they need the new plant to serve a customer base that is expanding westward from Kansas City and includes Lawrence. If Victory has to transport sand from outside the area, the company says that consumers ultimately will pay the price in higher costs for new construction and public projects.
``We're pursuing what we perceive is in the interest of the market as a whole,'' said Peter Powell, Victory's owner, who attended Tuesday's hearing as a spectator.
Also watching the proceedings was Bill Penny, president of Penny's Concrete, which has applied for permission to dredge at a site near Newman, eight miles upstream from the proposed Victory location. Penny, whose own application is likely to be influenced by Victory's results, declined comment.
Corps officials have said the volume and intensity of opposition won't sink Victory's application. Even so, the corps scheduled the hearing after receiving more than 100 letters in opposition to Victory's proposal.
Identifying the issues
Corps biologist Robert Smith said last week that his agency defines the pertinent issues more narrowly than many of the environmentalists who oppose the project. Concerns about boater safety, recreation, aesthetics and bald eagle habitat would have to be resolved before the corps would issue Victory a permit.
However, issues Smith said the corps probably would consider relevant or valid involve broader habitat concerns and assertions that the plant would alter the river channel, trigger bank erosion and imperil an abandoned landfill and the Lawrence water supply downstream.
Smith expects it to take the corps several months to issue a decision on Victory's permit application.
Victory's proposal carried recommendations of denial from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Interior and its Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kansas Water Office.
The official position
Other officials who weighed in at Tuesday's hearing in opposition to Victory's application were:
- Chris Mammoliti, an aquatic specialist from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, who asked the corps to designate a 13-mile segment of the river, which includes the Victory site as ``closed to sand and gravel dredging and conserved for (its) ecological, recreational, aesthetic and cultural benefits.''
- Douglas County Commissioner Jim Chappell, who called for additional study of the effects of dredging upon reaches of the river above Lawrence.
- State Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, who is asking the Legislative Coordinating Council to conduct an interim study of recreational and commercial uses of the river.
Representatives of the Kickapoo and Prairie Band Potawatomi tribes also spoke against Victory's plans, saying the dredging operation would infringe upon American Indian water rights, which they believe were not taken away by treaty.
Room for compromise?
Woody Moses, executive director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers Assn., said the corps' own regulatory plan, which was formulated to protect the river from overdredging, sets limits on the amount of sand that may be removed.
``It represents a lot of balance,'' Moses said of the plan. ``It provides for the extraction of natural resources while at the same time minimizing its impact.''
Moses said dredging replaces the natural scouring effect on the river bottom, which all but disappeared after dams were installed upstream.
The aggregate industry maintains that not granting Victory's application could have an even greater effect on the environment than allowing the company to dredge.
``If sand goes to $16 or $18 a ton, wood would once again become the preferred building material,'' he said.
Sand now sells for about $4 a ton.
Jack Carson, Victory's president, said the all-electric plant would generate little noise or other pollution and could be designed to provide safe passage for boaters.
The company won't be deterred if the corps denies the application, Carson said.
``There's avenues for appeals.''
Joe Hyde, a canoeist from Lawrence, predicted the battle about sand would continue unless dredging was banned.
``If we stop Victory tonight and Penny's tomorrow ... they'll be back because Kansas law allows dredging,'' he said.