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Archive for Sunday, April 5, 1998

KANSAS RIVER REGULATION DIVIDES RESIDENTS

April 5, 1998

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Two property owners share their opposing views on the best uses of the Kansas River and the role of government regulation of the waterway.

Alan M. Hill and Jay Lohmann have plenty in common, but a river runs between them and the way the river should be used divides them.

Both men own about 100 acres on the banks of the Kansas River. Hill's land is on the north bank of the Kaw a little east of Lecompton in Jefferson County. Lohmann's is on the south bank, a near equal distance west of the town in Douglas County. They each hold title to about a quarter-mile of riverfront. And each can describe how strong river currents have eroded their holdings.

They are from the same generation, cohorts in gray hair and manner of blunt expression. And both have been successful at business. Hill is president of Lawrence Paper Co. Lohmann is a retired vice president for Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Kansas.

Both men admit selfish interest in the outcome of proposed Kansas River legislation being considered by state lawmakers. And both men weighed in on the bill rather late in the political game.

Their voices piped up after the organized interests and lobbies that baby-sit the Legislature already had done their deal over the Kansas River, agreeing to a compromise that essentially divides the 170-mile stream between the sand dredging industry and environmental and outdoor groups.

The proposed legislation would ban dredging on 65 miles of the river in two segments, setting them aside for recreational use. The western recreation segment would be from River Mile 170, near the river's headwaters at Junction City, to River Mile 125, near Wamego, which is west of Topeka.

The eastern recreation segment would be from River Mile 51.8 to River Mile 72, a span of about 20 miles from the Bowersock Dam in Lawrence to a point near Grantville, which is west of Perry.

The parcels of land owned by Lohmann and Hill both would be within that eastern no-dredging zone created if the legislation is passed. But Hill, although he doesn't dredge, says a dredging ban would be tantamount to government confiscation of his right to use the land as he sees fit. That would be, an ``incremental regulatory taking,'' he says, a fancy term for government robbery, for which he and other wounded landowners should be compensated. He opposes the bill.

Lohmann, on the other hand, would like to see dredgers kept from his stretch of the river, so he supports the measure.

``If anybody asks me why I'm supporting this,'' Lohmann said, ``I tell them it's for totally selfish reasons.''

Lohmann bought his river property in 1992 and built there a rural riparian retreat -- a small, comfortable home that lets him wake up each morning to a postcard view of the Kaw at one of its prettiest bends. Lohmann, a golfer, says his front door is a five iron away from the water.

``My concern is basically the aesthetics of it all,'' Lohmann said. ``I don't want to sit out here at night hearing a diesel dredging pump,'' and watching his rare view of nature become industrialized.

That seemed a real possibility a couple years ago, when one of the dredging companies applied to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to operate near Lohmann's piece of the riverbank. The permit application later was withdrawn.

``My wife was just distraught when she heard there was going to be dredging here,'' Lohmann said. ``I've got a totally isolated area here. When I bought it, I thought I'd died and went to heaven because it's the most beautiful ground in Kansas. I swear this thing here is just gorgeous.''

Rolling along

The bill that would ban the dredging and create the recreational set aside was written jointly by lobbyists for the dredgers and environmentalists. That those historically warring factions could reach agreement impressed many lawmakers. Enough so that the Kansas House last month approved the compromise 109-14.

Hill and other river landowners weren't party to the drafting of the compromise. When Hill learned about it, only after it already had cleared the House, he shot into action against the bill. He testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wrote letters, and buttonholed senators, some of whom were conservative Republicans already philosophically sympathetic to his arguments about the supremacy of private property rights.

``This taking is being pushed by Lance Burt (actually Lance Burr, president of Friends of the Kaw) and his environmental group,'' Hill wrote senators on March 5. ``They do not want to pay for their takings. Today it is sand dredging, yesterday it was wetlands, tomorrow it will be whatever suits their fancy. Over a 20 year period they will considerably devalue many people's private property particularly mine and we owners will never be compensated for this nor will our property taxes ever be lowered.''

Hill's arguments struck a chord with several of the senators on the committee. Despite the urging of dredgers, environmentalists, canoers and bureaucrats from four state agencies including the departments of wildlife and parks and commerce, the committee rejected House Bill 2925 by a 4-3 margin.

Lohmann became involved in the issue the same time as Hill.

``I saw in the paper where they passed that bill through the House,'' Lohmann said. ``That's when I jumped on board.''

Fighting both sides

Lohmann, like Hill, approached committee senators as an individual river landowner, not officially aligned with any organization.

``I've never joined anything,'' Lohmann said. ``Not the Knights of Columbus, not even a fraternity. I joined the Army at 17 and that pretty much convinced me I didn't want to join anything else.''

Although he opposes dredging on the river, at least where he lives, he didn't join Friends of the Kaw, a Lawrence based anti-dredging group which helped write the compromise.

Because, he said, ``I didn't want to go to a bunch of meetings and although I think it's good what they're doing, I thought somebody might think I was an environmental nut.''

But Lohmann found senators less sympathetic to his views than did Hill.

His response from one buttonholed lawmaker, he says, ``was a string of four-letter words about how he wasn't going to vote to turn the river over to a bunch of kooks.''

Hill is as disdainful of environmentalists as the senator.

In a Friday interview with the Journal-World, he said environmentalists have targeted him and his company because of his outspoken resistance to their goals. And he described how state and federal environmental regulations have stymied the free use of his private property.

He no longer can take gravel from the stream on his farm ground in Wabaunsee County because of state laws meant to protect the Topeka Shiner, a small endangered fish. Use of his property in Lyon County has been restricted because of an endangered salamander. He also told of being ticketed for riding his horse in Yellowstone National Park, ``just cause I pulled off the trail to let the horse blow,'' he said.

Niggling restrictions on where man can ride his horse and how he can use his property are the fault of environmentalists, he said.

``Just getting rid of dredging on the river is not what they're about,'' Hill said. ``The next step would be getting rid of the trappers, then the duckhunters, then the airboaters, until they have the river all for themselves. That's the canoe huggers goal. Don't get me wrong. I'm not against canoeing. I'm not against nature lovers. I am adamantly against government taking people's property and not compensating them for it.''

Hill recently returned from a trip to Poland where he was consulting with the owner of a Polish paper company.

Hill said he was appalled by the poverty and disorganization he saw there, which he attributed to the former communist regime's outlawing of private property. The trip only strengthened his resolve to stand up for personal property rights and fight against their infringement by government regulation.

``Those people over there measure their quality of life in grams of meat per week,'' Hill said. ``We need to defend people's property rights.''

Age-old battle

Lohmann and Hill's difference over the river and the law governing it is a rendition in miniature of the huge and apparently never ending American debate over the proper role of government. How much government is too much and how much government is too little?

When Lohmann bought his river property in 1992 the mile and a half long road leading to it was covered with trash left behind by illegal dumpers. He wanted to see more government. He pushed county and township governments to clean it up. When they said they couldn't afford to, he offered to cover some of the costs of public road cleanup from his own pocket.

He continues to cough from his own pocket to have the public road cleaned.

``There was an ungodly amount of trash,'' Lohmann said. ``We took out 65,000 pounds of trash. Ever since then I've had my own commitment to this mile and quarter road. I've spent $500 or $600 just on dumping fees since then. My commitment isn't just to the river, but to the overall beauty of the thing.''

The fate of the river legislation in dispute remains uncertain. Despite the stifling by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, it is expected to receive new life next week. Members of a House-Senate conference committee have promised to attach it as a rider to a still active bill. That, for the first time, would allow the river compromise to be debated by both the full Senate and the full House.

-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is shields@ljworld.com.

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