Topeka A meeting today seeks middle ground in the Kansas River dredging dispute.
Kansas River dredgers and their opponents meet here today with two legislators to see if they can draft a compromise bill that mutually accommodates commerce and recreation on the Kansas River.
``I'm going for the Nobel Peace Prize,'' joked State Rep. Laura McClure of Osborne. She is ranking Democrat on the House Environment Committee and is responsible for bringing the parties together for the effort.
Expected to attend the, ``small, informal,'' meeting at the Statehouse are Woody Moses, lobbyist for the dredgers, along with two dredging company representatives.
From the other side will be Lance Burr, a Lawrence attorney and president of Friends of the Kaw, a group that has pushed for dredging bans on certain parts of the river. Two spokesmen for canoeists and Sierra Club lobbyist Charles Benjamin of Lawrence also will participate.
Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence and a fellow House Environment Committee member, will join McClure at the table.
McClure said her goal is to emerge with a bill that sets aside certain parts of the river exclusively for recreational purposes, but which also is acceptable to dredgers.
``What I'm looking for is a mile marker to mile marker designation,'' she said.
The compromise effort follows two consecutive days of legislative review of Kansas River studies prompted by the controversy over river dredging.
On Thursday, the House Environment Committee heard from spokesmen for the Kansas Geological Survey, which did a study of the sand and gravel resources of the 1,700-square-mile Kansas River Valley.
``Attempts to eliminate or restrict dredging prompted this study,'' said Lee Gerhard, KGS director.
Jim McCauley, also of KGS, told lawmakers that the valley produces, ``some of the best quality, least expensive sand and gravel in the United States,'' 2.4 million tons of it in 1996.
There are seven pit dredges on the river banks and nine dredges in the river.
``If the river dredges were removed,'' McCauley said, ``the few pit dredges on the narrow floodplain would be inadequate to meet the demand in that rapidly growing area,'' of northeast Kansas through which flows the Kaw.
He all but sang praise to sand and gravel.
It's true they are cheap, humble materials, he said, but without them civilization as we now know it could not exist.
``There would be no highways,'' he said. ``The mortar that holds this building together is made from sand.''
``We're not talking about throwing the dredgers out of the river,'' said McClure, responding to fellow committee members who showed worry about the potential economic consequences of dredging limits. ``We're not going to do away with the highways.''
The committee also heard spokesmen from four of the five state agencies that collaborated on the Kansas River Recreation Study, submitted to the Legislature last month.
``We strongly urge the Legislature to set aside a portion, or portions, of the Kansas River for exclusive recreational use,'' said Jim Janousek of Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing. "This would exclude commercial use of the river, specifically in-river sand and gravel dredging operations, in segments established as recreational areas.''
Spokesmen from the Kansas Water Office, Wildlife & Parks, and the Kansas Biological Survey also endorsed the recommendation.
Supporters of recreation-only segments on the river want to
exclude dredging between Lawrence and Topeka and in a second undefined segment somewhere between west Topeka and near Junction City where the 170-mile river originates. Those areas currently have no in-river dredging operations.
Kansas Geological Survey offered the committee no estimate of how long current dredging operations might be adequate to northeast Kansas building needs.
But after the committee disbanded, Lawrence Brady of KGS answered the question for a reporter.
``Twenty-five years,'' he said. ``But that's only an estimate. There's a lot of sand in the valley.''
-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is email@example.com.