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Archive for Thursday, November 23, 1995

LITIGATION AWAITS SEIS

November 23, 1995

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A legal challenge to the South Lawrence Trafficway is on hold until 1996.

A lawsuit challenging the format of a public hearing on the South Lawrence Trafficway won't be refiled just yet.

Bill Craven, an attorney for the Kansas Natural Resources Council, said his organization will evaluate its legal options after a supplemental environmental impact statement for the trafficway is completed next year.

``In order to avoid this notion that we are premature, we should wait until the administrative process is complete,'' Craven said.

``The advantage of waiting is also that we can then litigate everything all at once, including whatever additional issues there might be, depending on which route is chosen,'' he said.

Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the KNRC and two students from Haskell Indian Nations University, who had hoped to compel the trafficway planners to alter their plans for the Nov. 8 public hearing on the SEIS.

The Federal Highway Administration and Kansas Department of Transportation, who were defendants in the lawsuit, chose to have an open-house forum rather than the traditional town hall public meeting. The plaintiffs believe that public debate was inhibited because people made comments in writing or individually to court reporters rather than before an audience.

However, trafficway planners maintain that public participation is higher with the format they chose. Douglas County officials have said they anticipate additional litigation before the road is finished.

Judge Tom Van Bebber dismissed the public hearing lawsuit, saying the issues couldn't be litigated before the hearing, which was then two days away.

Trafficway planners will take written public comment until Dec. 4. The SEIS is likely to be finished in the spring.

It will determine which alignment the road will follow from U.S. Highway 59 to Kansas Highway 10. Routes under consideration would follow 31st, 35th or 38th Street.

The lawsuit dismissed this month also criticized trafficway planners for failing to name a preferred route in the SEIS so the public could provide specific comment.

Other issues likely to be litigated next year, Craven said, include why trafficway planners did not consider a route south of the Wakarusa River, which would avoid sites held to be spiritual by American Indians and the Haskell-Baker Wetlands.

He said questions about religious freedom, environmental justice, floodplain development and wetlands preservation also could come into play.

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