A new sand dredging operation is proposed for the Kansas River near the border of Douglas, Jefferson and Shawnee counties.
Environmental groups vowed Tuesday to challenge a concrete company's plan to dredge sand from the Kansas River about 20 miles west of Lawrence.
William Penny of Lawrence, owner of Penny's Concrete, asked Jefferson County for a permit to clear the way for a sand dredging and sales operation on riverfront agricultural land. He has access to 160 acres in Jefferson County about one mile east of Grantville, but the sand business would occupy only 30 acres.
Eileen Larson, a Kansas Natural Resource Council board member, and Mike Calwell, vice president of both the Friends of the Kaw and the Kansas Canoe Assn., said they would oppose Penny's petition at all levels. Both intend to focus on environmental and recreational problems they associate with large-scale dredging.
``It's nothing but a travesty on the river,'' Calwell said. ``We're going to pull out as many stops as we can to keep this from happening.''
Woody Moses, lobbyist for the Kansas Aggregate Producers' Assn., Kansas Cement Council and Kansas Ready Mixed Concrete Assn. in Topeka, said the state should try to strike a balance between the demand for raw materials and the goal of environmental protection.
``We feel, basically, our natural resources can be shared,'' Moses said.
These ideas will converge at 7 p.m. July 28 during a meeting of the Jefferson County Planning Commission at the courthouse in Oskaloosa.
``I have thoughts on both sides,'' said David Hemme, chair of the planning commission. ``I'm for the environment and all that, but what gets me is ... we also want highways and buildings. Every asphalt and concrete road takes sand.''
Hemme's panel will take public comment prior to forming a recommendation for the Jefferson County Commission, which must wait 14 days before voting on Penny's application for a conditional-use permit.
If the county endorses the dredging proposal, Penny would need to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to locate a dredging operation on the river.
Penny didn't return telephone calls Tuesday to his office and home.
In the permit application to Jefferson County, Penny said a new supply of sand would help the area meet growing demand for the manufacture of asphalt and concrete. Sand also could be used for road maintenance and ice control.
The business would initially attract an average of five to 15 large trucks each day. Traffic would eventually escalate to an average of 40 to 50 trucks daily.
Proposals to dredge the Kansas River from Lawrence to Topeka have been a source of controversy for years.
In 1996, Friends of the Kaw helped persuade the Corps of Engineers to deny a dredging permit for Victory Sand & Gravel, which wanted to mine the Kansas River six miles above the Bowersock Dam.
Shortly after Victory's loss, Penny abandoned an effort to get a dredging permit for a location near Newman, eight miles upriver from the Victory site. He said he would concentrate on sites closer to the Shawnee-Jefferson county line.
Meanwhile, five state agencies studied river dredging but failed to reach a consensus. The 1998 Legislature considered a bill that would have banned sand dredging on 65 miles of the Kansas River. Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, said legislators would likely revisit the issue next session.
All the hubbub allowed proponents and opponents to rehearse their lines.
Calwell, of Friends of the Kaw, said dredging of sand in the river caused erosion of land along the waterway. He said pit mining would be a more environmentally acceptable, but more expensive, method of extracting sand.
The Kansas River from Topeka to Lawrence remains a prime recreational corridor not yet destroyed by mining, Larson said. She said Penny's dredge would go in below the Seward Avenue boat ramp and inhibit canoeists. Dredging equipment would create safety hazards for boaters, she said.
``That cuts off the access point,'' Larson said. ``They have floating barges across the river. If in operation, it's unsafe.''
Moses, the industry lobbyist, said dredging didn't seriously inhibit river access. ``In high use on weekends and evenings, it's not in operation.''
He said dredging with a suction device caused less environmental degradation than pit mining.
``Generally, in-river dredging is said to have the lowest environmental impact,'' he said. ``The physical act of producing the sand has already occurred by natural erosion of the river. The sand comes to you anyway.''
Hemme said he was prepared for another round of emotional debate about use of the river. He half-jokingly said that some folks in Jefferson County wished Penny would take his permit business to Douglas or Shawnee counties.
``I've told Mr. Penny to apply for one on the south side of the river,'' he said.
The only reward that Hemme and his colleagues typically received for dealing with the requests first was to have sand kicked in their faces.
``We take most of the flak. No matter what decision we make, it affects somebody.''
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.