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Archive for Tuesday, March 17, 1998

A SENATE COMMITTEE CHANGED TWO WORDS IN A SAND-DREDGING BILL.

March 17, 1998

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— They drove their savvy to the levee, but the savvy went dry.

That's the interpretation some gave to action Monday by the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

The nine-person committee changed two words in a hard-fought compromise bill dividing the Kansas River between sand dredgers and recreational users of the 170-mile stream. But after that amendment, a motion to advance House Bill 2925 to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation died for want of a second.

The amendment changed a key ``or'' to an ``and,'' and added one other word. The chief purpose of the change was to mollify spokesmen for a Topeka drainage district who were worried the bill would let the public trample and motor across their river levees, driving up maintenance costs.

But another apparent consequence of the amendment was confusion about the resulting bill and hesitation on the part of the committee members who made the change.

``I think there was some confusion because of the amendment,'' said Sen. Sandy Praeger, a Lawrence Republican who favors the bill but has no vote on the committee.

``Mass confusion I think,'' said Rep. Laura McClure, the Osborne Democrat who played a key role in drafting the hard-fought compromise bill, which passed the House earlier this year with an overwhelming majority. ``I think it was just mass confusion.''

Environmental groups and the sand-dredging lobby have given equally guarded support to the bill, which would ban dredging on 65 miles of the river and for the first time designate portions of the stream for recreational use only. Municipalities and other industries, as is current practice, could continue to operate the full length of the river in accordance with state and federal operating permits. Dredgers and environmentalists have been at odds over use of the river for at least the past three years but came together to endorse HB 2925.

Praeger and other supporters of the bill said they remain optimistic the committee ultimately will advance it to the full Senate. Once the bill escapes the committee bottleneck, they said, the full Senate likely will approve by wide margin, just as the full House did.

``There's a lot of support for the bill,'' said Lance Burr of Lawrence, president of Friends of the Kaw. ``It really is a compromise. I can honestly say that both sides don't like the bill but would rather have it than nothing.''

Committee Chairman Dave Corbin, R-Towanda, said the committee probably will take the bill up again but didn't say when.

Sen. Donald Biggs, D-Leavenworth, made the unsuccessful motion to advance the bill, although he voted against the changes made to the bill. His district includes Jefferson and Leavenworth counties, both of which border the Kansas River.

``We couldn't even get it out of committee with that amendment on it,'' Biggs said, ``so I don't know what's going to happen with it now. The chairman indicated he would bring it up again. But I'll tell you, that's a tough committee whenever you deal with recreation, property rights or the environment. It's pretty well packed,'' with conservative Republicans.

Besides the politics, time also is a factor because of procedural deadlines. The committee still has the volatile issue of corporate hog farms with which to deal, and it must approve the river bill by 1 p.m. March 25, if it is later to be considered by the full Senate.

``They're coming up against it,'' timewise, said Charles Benjamin of Lawrence, lobbyist for Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, which supports the bill. ``None of the other committee members (apart from Biggs) has a particular stake in this bill passing. Several of them tend to be anti-environmental.''

Only one other member of the nine-person committee has a district that includes a portion of the Kansas River. That is Sen. Ed Pugh, a conservative Republican from Wamego. He and other conservative Republicans on the committee have expressed concerns the bill might undermine the private property rights of those who own land along the river.

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

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