Haskell Indian Nations University is seeking a science laboratory building, among other items, as part of its mitigation plan for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Haskell Indian Nations University wants ownership of the Baker Wetlands returned, $250,000 for a wetlands management fund, a science laboratory building and additional acreage from the Kansas Department of Transportation as part of a mitigation plan for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
An attorney representing Douglas County in its ongoing trafficway dispute said parts of Haskell's request sound plausible. But others involved in the lawsuit are more critical.
Haskell President Bob Martin released the plan to the school's board of regents on Wednesday, stressing that Haskell has not dropped its opposition to a 31st Street alignment for the trafficway. He said the school is merely planning for its future with the trafficway running nearby.
Both Martin and regents attorney Ken Bellmard denied the mitigation plan, which would need to be approved by state Secretary of Transportation Dean Carlson, is a tradeoff or deal with KDOT.
``We don't think it's a tradeoff because we're still opposing 31st Street,'' Bellmard said. ``We're just keeping our concerns out there.''
Martin said discussions with the state and county have indicated the eastern leg of the trafficway will either involve 31st Street or will not be completed at all. The mitigation plan ensures Haskell doesn't completely lose if the 31st Street alignment becomes reality, Martin and Bellmard said.
The 31st Street route is the county and state's preferred alignment, but a federal judge's injunction has halted progress on the eastern leg until officials complete a supplemental environmental impact statement. The trafficway would be designed to allow commuters to bypass Lawrence to the south to avoid heavy traffic in the city.
Tim Orrick, Douglas County's attorney for the trafficway, said some of Haskell's requests seem plausible.
``Much of them are engineering considerations that have been basically planned since the project was conceptualized. Conceptually all these things are on the table, and many of them could be readily incorporated,'' he said.
He added that the fact Haskell is looking at mitigation is a good sign.
But others disagree. Thomasine Ross, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration and its division administrator, Douglas County commissioners and the Kansas Secretary of Transportation, said Martin did not sway her that the mitigation plan is not a tradeoff.
``We've come to the conclusion that it's a sellout,'' said Ross, former president of the Haskell National Alumni Assn. and a former member of the school's board of regents. Haskell itself is not a party to the lawsuit.
She and other opponents of the trafficway plan to protest from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today on Haskell's campus.
Orrick adds that Haskell's request for ``an improved campus infrastructure,'' specifically a new science facility, is the biggest hurdle.
The mitigation plan says Haskell's science laboratories and equipment are outdated, and ``thus, it is imperative that a commitment for a new science facility is secured.''
Martin said Haskell has estimated cost of a new science building at $10 million. He said the school would not expect KDOT to pay for the entire project. Funding would come from a variety of sources, he said.
Regarding return and management of the wetlands, which lie just south of 31st Street, the transportation secretary has ``indicated some willingness to assist in funding a trust for continued maintenance and improvement of the roadway,'' Orrick said.
A 1968 property transfer deeded the 573-acre wetlands from Haskell to Baker University.
Baker President Dan Lambert said the mitigation could be a success on two fronts.
``One is our primary concern to protect the wetlands and two is hopefully provide Douglas County and the Lawrence community with the trafficway, which is so much needed,'' he said. ``The issue for Baker has never been ownership. It's been management of the wetlands.''
Douglas County Commissioner Mark Buhler said building a science laboratory is something outside the parameters of typical mitigation. Martin said the school would ask the state, not the county, for assistance.
Buhler said he hopes the regents meeting continues to set in motion resolution of the trafficway.
``People can figure out ways to meet (everyone's needs), and that's really encouraging,'' he said. ``I don't call that a secret deal at all, and those who do don't want to deal-make at all. They don't want anyone to be happy.''
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