Archive for Sunday, March 24, 1996


March 24, 1996


Environmentalists say they can't tell how much sand is leaving the Kansas River.

Opponents of dredging on the Kansas River say the issue of environmental impacts gets muddy because no one really knows how much sand is being mined.

``One of the biggest problems is we have very little data on which to assess whether the dredgers are in compliance, and whenever we ask, we get different answers,'' said Bill Craven, director of the Kansas Natural Resource Council.

``There are huge holes in the data base,'' he said.

What rankles environmentalists is that sand producers on the Kansas River have been allowed to monitor themselves for compliance with the tonnage limits that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers imposes on dredging operations.

In addition to the Corps' passive oversight, Craven said dredgers frequently submit reports late, use round numbers and sometimes write down their regulatory limits rather than the amount of sand that actually was extracted from the river.

Woody Moses, director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers Assn., the sand and gravel industry umbrella, said he stands by the numbers he gathers from members and forwards to the Corps of Engineers. He is the clearing house for the industry's reporting to the Corps.

``We report what we take out'' of the river, Moses said. ``All I can say is we're being forthright and honest.''

Robert Smith, a biologist with the Corps, said it's true that his agency is allowing the dredgers to operate on an honor system and that hard numbers for Kansas River tonnages aren't available.

``That's a correct statement, but I think it's important to note that we don't have any information or any reason to believe that the producers are providing anything other than accurate information,'' Smith said. ``As long as we receive what we believe are reliable estimates, we're satisfied.''

Smith explained that sand extractions aren't metered and that dredgers are forced to calculate tonnages using estimates based on the height and diameter of sand piles.

``It's not an exact science,'' he said.

Without a reason for suspicion, Smith said the Corps isn't willing to pay for an independent audit of the 15 dredging sites on the river below Topeka. The agency doesn't have the resources to perform audits without cause, he said.

Smith acknowledged that the dredging industry often is slow to provide the Corps with information. Reports on 1995 tonnages, which were due Jan. 31, still haven't been submitted to the Corps.

Moses said he hopes to file the 1995 reports yet this month.

The sand industry has not shied away from oversight, Moses said. His organization called for additional state auditing of the industry during hearings the Kansas Legislature held this winter.

Pro-river environmental groups persuaded lawmakers to pass a bill that improves the state's monitoring of dredging and more than doubles the royalties paid by sand producers. That oversight effort is separate from the Corps' regulatory program.

This week the Kansas Senate approved legislation that would impose a two-year moratorium on dredging above Lawrence while state officials study the possibility of establishing a recreation corridor there.

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