County commissioners gave unanimous approval Wednesday night to renew a permit for a Kansas River sand and gravel dredging operation east of Lawrence.
Environmental advocates urged commissioners to work with the dredging company to instead have them mine in a sand pit in the river valley.
But all three commissioners gave different reasons for voting to renew the Kaw Sand and Penny's Concrete Inc. dredging permit on farmland south of the Kansas River, about 2 miles east of Lawrence.
"(Some day) if you get a request for a pit or a dredge or a quarry, and everybody agrees, somebody call me because I want to be here," said Commissioner Bob Johnson, who is not seeking another term on the commission.
The companies have had a conditional-use permit to take sand and gravel from the Kansas River on Schaake Farms Inc. property, 1752 N. 1500 Road, since 1991. The companies also have a permit with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Laura Calwell, riverkeeper for Friends of the Kaw, said dredging can damage the riverbed, habitat and water quality.
"We would like to see them off the river because they do substantial damage to the riverbanks and the riverbed," she said.
Calwell suggested giving the companies a two-year transition to relocate to pit mines in the valley.
David Hoover, president of the companies, said experts believed the riverbed has and is degrading naturally, and Hoover said the companies comply with their permit regulations.
Johnson said the companies had been good stewards and that the new permit would run concurrently with the Corps of Engineers permit.
Commissioner Charles Jones told Calwell and others that the environmental issues with dredging, pit mining and rock quarries should be part of a larger policy discussion.
"What we have to do is engage in this discussion, but that discussion isn't going to be resolved here and now tonight, and it may take us 10 years to work our way through these details," Jones said.
He also said a condition of the permit was for the companies to obey all state and federal laws.
Commissioner Jere McElhaney said the only change in the new permit was a different location for a stockpile. He criticized the Friends of the Kaw and the Kansas Wildlife Federation for suggesting a private business move its operation without "offering any solutions or monetary value for that."
Commissioners approved the permit to last until Dec. 13, 2012, when a zoning administrator can grant an extension for up to six years.