To the editor:
The Osprey Group event Wednesday night, Oct. 17th, was the last of its "stakeholder" meetings. The process was portrayed as an opportunity for the segments of the community with an interest in the SLT to express their concerns. The panel had representatives from Kansas University, Baker, Haskell, Lawrence School District, Wakarusa Township, City Commission, County Commission, Planning Commission, Chamber of Commerce, Kaw Valley Heritage Alliance, property owners from south of the river, property owners from the Indian Hills Neighborhood, Wetlands Preservation Organization, Audubon Society and Sierra Club. An exercise at the previous meeting generated a list of concerns, which were then ranked by members of the panel. Before this meeting, these results were compiled and tabulated.
Even though the panel was heavily weighted with non-environmentalists, the highest ranking consideration was the impact to a biologically diverse wetland. The lowest ranking were project cost and consistency with land use plans. Projected traffic volume on the trafficway and surrounding streets was also on the lower end of the ranking. Also considered and falling between these two extremes were the educational and recreational use of the wetlands, displacement of homes and businesses, noise and visual impacts, historical and archeological sites, floodways and stream crossings, and impact to Haskell. The benefits , drawbacks and potential mitigation of three options was discussed for each of the eight criteria. These options were 32nd Street, 42nd Street and no action.
In the course of discussion, all of the representatives except those from Sierra, Audubon and WPO favored building the trafficway on one of the two alignments. It was an irony apparently lost on the participants that the order of priority established by the ranking exercise was somehow reversed and the cost, land planning and traffic considerations trumped the protection of a biologically diverse wetland. The concern of the environmental community is that the results of this manipulated and highly artificial discussion process will be used to justify a decision that is disastrous for the wetlands, bad for traffic, bad for the city and opposed by many in the region.
This meeting was not a part of the NEPA process, the Environmental Impact Study or the Army Corps of Engineers 404 permit process. As such it was not regulated by legal constraints. There was no public input. If you weren't at the table, you couldn't ask questions or make observations. In the near future, there will be meetings that require the allowance of public input. It is important that those with objections to the building of the trafficway, the destruction of the wetlands or the subversion of the democratic process attend and speak at those meetings.
The press coverage and statements from KDOT (and its public relations firm, the Osprey Group) are attempting to reduce this discussion to a choice of the preferred alignment. Conspicuously avoided is the inclusion of the "no action" option. We prefer to refer to this as the "Build a Comprehensive Regional Mass Transit System" option. We must loudly and frequently remind them that BY LAW this discussion must include the "No Action" option.