Tempers flare after county workers remove beaver dam at wetlands; water flows to south side of 31st Street

People gathered Wednesday along a stretch of 31st Street near the Haskell/Baker Wetlands to protest the county’s removal of a beaver dam from a culvert underneath 31st Street. The removal caused water levels in the northern half of the wetlands to drop significantly.

Tensions are rising around the Haskell/Baker Wetlands as water levels are dropping.

Crews with Douglas County Public Works on Friday removed a beaver dam from a culvert underneath 31st Street, which caused water levels in the northern half of the wetlands to drop significantly.

Now, Haskell students and members of area wetlands preservation groups are protesting the decision, saying that the lower water levels have led to high numbers of wildlife being killed on 31st Street as they try to cross from the north side to the south.

“I haven’t seen the Haskell students riled up as much as they are right now in a long time,” said Mike Caron, executive director of Save the Wakarusa Wetlands.

The wetlands north of 31st Street are managed by Haskell Indian Nations University. The wetlands south of 31st Street, where the water flowed to, are managed by Baker University.

Keith Browning, Douglas County’s director of Public Works, said the high water levels could have created problems for 31st Street. He said he was concerned about the water seeping into the road’s sub-base, which would have caused large-scale pavement failures on the already sub-par road.

“We have enough problems with that pavement already,” Browning said. “A saturated subgrade would be really bad.”

Browning said removing beaver dams and other obstructions from culverts is considered standard maintenance for his crews. But he said he now will review ways to provide notification of when that work will be done near the wetlands. One county commissioner said he wants to hear more about that.

“What disappoints me most is that we had an opportunity to communicate with Haskell, and we didn’t do that,” Commissioner Mike Gaughan said.

But wetland supporters said the damage already has been done this time. Caron said Haskell students walked 31st Street on Tuesday and found a higher than usual amount of carcasses that had been struck by cars on 31st Street. Caron said students took pictures of about 100 wildlife carcasses, although some clearly had been struck before Friday. Usually, a tour of the road produces less than a dozen carcasses, he said.

About 3 p.m. Wednesday, more than 20 people — some holding signs that read “The wetlands were here first,” and “Don’t make Haskell roadkill” — gathered for a protest at the site.