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Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

Wetlands study plan draws fire

July 21, 2000

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Proponents of completing the eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway plan a study of possible Native American burial sites in the Baker Wetlands.

But an attorney for the Wetlands Preservation Organization said it was ill-advised and unnecessary.

"Certainly these mistakes have been made in the past, and this is another mistake," Bob Eye said.

Proponents emerged from a July 13 private meeting to say they would not pursue completion of the trafficway along 38th Street through the Baker Wetlands if there was evidence of burial sites along the route.

Eye, who attended the July 13 meeting, said the precise location of the burial sites was irrelevant.

"We consider any encroachment on the wetlands to be an encroachment on the ground that is considered sacred by many people," Eye said.

During the early days of Haskell Indian Nations University, Eye said, not all students who died were buried in the school's cemetery with a stone marker. Some were buried closer to the Wakarusa River, in accord with the customs of their tribes.

Eye said his clients, students and alumni of Haskell, would prefer to leave it at that for fear the remains would be disturbed.

County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the existence of human remains in the wetlands has been seen as an important factor in deciding where to build the trafficway.

But the county has been caught in a "Catch-22" on the issue, Weinaug said.

"We have verbal information from the Wetlands Preservation Organization that there were burial sites," Weinaug said. "They then said to us, 'We can't tell you where they are.'"

Last fall the county hired two consulting firms to study the historical and cultural significance of the wetlands property. Included in the scope of their study would have been a look at possible burial sites, Weinaug said.

But the study was stopped when the Haskell Board of Regents declined to approve the trafficway's construction.

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