Haskell Indian Nations University officials arrive in Boulder, Colo., this afternoon for a day-and-half-long discussion about the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The talks are part of a Kansas Department of Transportation effort to find which of five proposed routes for the controversial road has the best shot at overcoming opposition from environmentalists and Haskell officials.
The Haskell group, including a majority of the school's Board of Regents, is not expected to endorse a route during the meetings. Also attending for Haskell are President Karen Swisher and Haskell attorney Ron Manka.
KDOT is paying for the plane tickets and accommodations, which are expected to cost about $15,000.
Judy DeHose, chairwoman of the Haskell regents, said it's unlikely board members will reverse their long-standing opposition to routing the trafficway through the Haskell or Baker wetlands.
Most members, she said, consider the wetlands sacred because several Haskell students are thought to be buried there.
"As Indian people, we all respect the grave sites of our people," said DeHose, a member of the White Mountain (Ariz.) Apache Tribal Council for the past 20 years. "I don't see where that would change.
"A plane ticket isn't going to buy me off. That's ridiculous."
"The meeting is to figure out what the issues are that are raised by the trafficway so that in the future those issues can be the subject of a broader discussion within the community," said Mike Rees, KDOT's chief legal counsel and a key player in efforts to keep the discussion alive.
Rees won't attend the meetings. Instead, KDOT consultants will review the proposed routes, offer formats for addressing cultural issues, and solicit Board of Regents members' opinions on the project.
"That's what the agenda says," Rees said. "But, really, the structure of the meeting is to hear what the regents have to say. If they don't want to go through the other stuff, then they won't."
Earlier this year, KDOT hired The Osprey Group, a Boulder consulting firm, to collect opinions on the trafficway.
Though The Osprey Group's first report included interviews with Haskell administrators Marvin Buzard and George Godfrey, it lacked input from the Board of Regents. The Boulder meetings are meant to provide that input, Rees said.
Between 10 and 13 of the 15 regents are expected to attend the meeting, Rees said.
"The Haskell regents, as a group, live all over the country, and the university has no money in its budget to accommodate a meeting such as this," Rees said. "We certainly don't expect them to pay for it. Their input on this is highly important, so we're willing to front the traveling expenses.
"I have no reason to believe our buying the plane tickets and hotel rooms will sway them one way or the other."