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Archive for Wednesday, October 14, 1998

EASEMENT SOUGHT FOR AREA WETLANDS

October 14, 1998

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Baker University hopes a conservation easement would help it establish a trust for management of its wetlands.

Baker University is in the early stages of applying for a permanent conservation easement for its 573-acre wetlands south of 31st Street that could help the school manage the land.

The Kansas Department of Transportation says the federal easement, if granted, would have no effect on the South Lawrence Trafficway because right-of-way al-ready has been acquired.

``The easement is part of our plan to create a trust which will have management responsibility for the wetlands for a long time,'' John Fuller, director of news services for Baker, said Tuesday. ``There is no guarantee we are going to receive this. We are early in the application process.''

Baker has applied for the easement -- which would protect the wetlands from development -- through the Natural Resource Conservation Service's wetlands reserve program. Although Baker owns the wetlands now, it might not always own the land, and that's why the easement is important, he said.

``We have always said ownership is not necessarily an issue, but management is a big issue,'' Fuller said.

Easements essentially are legal documents that establish what kind of land uses will and won't be allowed on a piece of property. Once a permanent easement such as the one Baker is seeking is placed on a piece of property, the land is protected no matter who owns it. In this case, an easement would guarantee the wetlands stay ``as is.'' If Baker transferred ownership of the wetlands to another group, the easement still would apply. Conservation easements have been used frequently in western states such as Montana and Wyoming as ways to protect natural resources and open spaces.

The next step in the application process is for staff from the conservation service to visit the wetlands.

Though the wetlands in the 31st Street area are often referred to as the Haskell-Baker Wetlands, each school owns and manages its own wetlands, Fuller said. Haskell's wetlands are north of 31st Street.

``31st Street is not exactly the dividing line,'' but it's the general boundary between the wetlands, Fuller said.

Marty Matthews, a spokesman for KDOT, said the conservation easement would not affect the SLT because the agencies involved do not plan to acquire additional wetlands for the trafficway, stalled by litigation.

A panel from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last month about U.S. District Judge Tom Van Bebber's decision in July 1997 to halt work on the eastern leg of the trafficway until officials completed a supplemental environmental impact statement. Douglas County, KDOT and the Federal Highway Administration appealed Van Bebber's decision.

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.

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