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Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2000

State pushes 31st Street

Opposition stands firm; deal on 38th Street also sought

August 31, 2000

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Unlike the South Lawrence Trafficway itself, the quest to revive the controversial road has come full circle.

Mike Rees, chief counsel for the Kansas Department of Transportation, is trying to gain support from environmentalists and others for a completed trafficway along 31st Street.

"We need some kind of indication from Haskell that we're partnering in this deal."

Mike Rees, chief counsel for the Kansas Department of Transportation

Rees said that if left to their own devices, the Lawrence and Douglas County governments likely will wind up improving 31st Street and making it an arterial road similar to 23rd Street.

"If you are going to build that, why in the world would you be so stupid not to build the South Lawrence Trafficway there?" Rees said.

A trafficway built by the state would mitigate damage to the Baker Wetlands, have controlled access and other advantages, Rees said.

But the idea repulsed those who have objected to the trafficway's completion through the wetlands or along 31st Street, which has been the route preferred by local and state officials but to which federal officials would not agree.

"This is warmed-over rehash," said Bob Eye, an attorney who represents some trafficway opponents. "I don't think the conditions have changed at all from those that were present when 31st Street was scuttled the first time around."

That route was killed because it failed to earn the support of the Haskell Indian Nations University board of regents.

Ron Manka, an attorney for Haskell's board, said the school remains strongly opposed to a 31st Street trafficway.

"They ought to just give up on that idea," Manka said.

Rees, with the blessing of Kansas Transportation Secretary Dean Carlson, continues to explore a 38th Street route for the trafficway.

He sent a letter this week to Karen Swisher, Haskell president, asking her to arrange a meeting between the regents and consultants who have been hired to look for burial sites along the 38th Street corridor through the Baker Wetlands.

The study was initiated after a July meeting attended by Manka and Mamie Rupnicki, chairwoman of the Haskell regents.

Manka said that he and Rupnicki agreed then that the Haskell regents will consider a 38th Street trafficway route if 31st Street is removed from the Haskell campus; study is done on a trafficway route south of the Wakarusa River; and no grave sites are found along the 38th Street route.

"No commitment was made to approve it," Manka said.

Before state money will be spent on a grave-site study, "a more definite arrangement needs to be established," Rees said. "We need some kind of indication from Haskell that we're partnering in this deal."

Rees said the return of his attention to 31st Street was the result of more study of the traffic, the costs of the various routes and the time it will take to get each one built.

Joyce Wolf, corresponding secretary with the Jayhawk Audubon Society, said she and a couple other members of the group have met with Rees, who tried to convince them to support 31st Street.

"He made the pitch, but unfortunately I didn't hear anything new," Wolf said. "I don't think the environmental community is going to change its mind. I don't think the Native American community is going to change its mind."

Wolf said Rees alluded to mitigation that might be done to make up for any environmental damage from a trafficway.

Rees said he is seeking a meeting with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which oversees Haskell.

"I think the BIA has a lot to say about what happens at Haskell," he said. "Whether they choose to say it or not is up to them."

Manka said the Haskell regents continue to speak for the school on the issue of the trafficway.

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