Roger Boyd has a dream. Most wetland biologists would call it a nightmare. Dr. Boyd has convinced himself that paving 70 acres of Haskell-Baker Wetlands wouldn't dramatically impact what remains. This wetland will survive. Some species adapt to almost any befouling of their home. But its extraordinary biodiversity, greatest for any wetland its size in the Midwest, would be diminished.
KDOT's "32nd Street" plan calls for an initial two-lane South Lawrence Trafficway. It would quickly grow to four, and then eventually fill the six-lane right-of-way. A relocated four-lane "31st Street" would run through the boardwalk beside the trafficway.
Wetlands become especially active at night. The approved expressway to Ottawa's distribution centers and I-35, the primary NAFTA highway, ensure the SLT will morph into a major regional truckway once commuters are in bed. Some of the 255 bird species documented in the Haskell-Baker Wetlands will return, but say so long to snowy egrets, nesting ospreys and many other birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians who will seek less disturbed and befouled habitats.
The most outrageous aspect of the "32nd Street" nightmare is the injustice it inflicts upon Native Americans. This is a crucial place in Indian boarding school history, literally sacred ground to many alumni. In 1884, an off-reservation boarding school was a coveted source of income for our depressed local economy. Lawrence had to provide land. They selected what citizens of the day considered the unhealthiest "worthless swampland" in the area. There was barely enough upland to construct dorms and classrooms. Later school officials realized these wetlands were a prime refuge for young natives resisting the government's efforts at mass cultural extinction. They tried to drain this "devil's playground."
Methodist-affiliated Baker University has a special obligation to be sensitive to history. The architects of Haskell Institute's campaign to "kill the Indian and save the man" were predominantly Methodist ministers like James Marvin, Joshua Lippincott and Charles Meserve. Most were closely associated with Baker when they lived in Douglas County.
Collaborating with KDOT in yet another outrage against the native peoples of America is no way to heal the wounds inflicted by the many Methodist missionary zealots who did such great harm while in charge of reservations and boarding schools. Baker could initiate real healing, and benefit greatly themselves, by sharing this incredible outdoor classroom with its previous owners, who - as usual - were given no say in the government's decision to "surplus" their land.
Going south of the Wakarusa River need not take another 15 years. If KDOT proceeds with the 32nd Street route, the federal courts will rule that alternatives beyond the wetland must be seriously studied and considered. We have ample proof this was not done. More importantly, the fact that the city and county have decided to spend $74 million constructing sewage treatment facilities to accommodate 20,000 new homes south of the Wakarusa has revealed the utterly absurdity of pretending an SLT route through the wetlands would be a regional "bypass."
If Roger Boyd, and Baker University, really want to begin the healing process, both for the wetlands and for the soul of this community, the choice is clear: Support Mayor Highberger's initiative to build the SLT south of the Wakarusa. Save the wetlands for our children and all our non-human relations.