The sale of land that includes two baseball fields in southwestern Lawrence to Kansas Athletics Inc. has resolved a Douglas County lawsuit over expansion of a dam for Lake Alvamar.
Parties involved with the suit involving Wakarusa Watershed Joint District No. 35 and owners of Sport 2 Sport One LLC confirmed Tuesday the sale of land would help pave the way for expansion of the dam and would remove two fields just west of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.
Kansas University’s athletic department was not involved in the lawsuit, but it owns the adjacent Jayhawk Tennis Center, 5200 Clinton Parkway, near the fields, which are called This Field and That Field.
Jim Marchiony, a KU associate athletic director, said the department and the watershed district would each pay $75,000. The title of the land goes to KU while the district will improve drainage to the watershed area and rehabilitate the dam.
“It’s in our best interest to ensure that that land is safe because, first of all, the Jayhawk Tennis Center is there now,” Marchiony said. “But also in the future if we want to expand the tennis facility, we want to be sure that the land is functional.”
The watershed district in January filed a petition in Douglas County District Court arguing the district was not required to pay owners of Sport 2 Sport to remove the two fields. The watershed district was required to expand the dam because it was 2 feet short of state requirements for serving an area considered to be under a “high hazard” flood control classification.
For more than three years, a coalition of local, state and federal officials worked with the watershed district and neighboring property owners, who live north of Clinton Parkway, to come up with about $2.2 million to expand the dam, also known as the Yankee Tank Dam, 6 feet at the top and at the foot of it.
When the dam was initially constructed in 1973 agricultural land surrounded it, but now that Lawrence has expanded to the west. A major flood could cause damage to the developed area, including Clinton Parkway and the Kansas Highway 10 bypass. The Youth Sports Complex facilities are also nearby. The district had drained the lake in the past, but state officials said a major flood could still damage infrastructure south of the lake, including streets and roads.
Mark Emert, an attorney representing Sport 2 Sport, including managing partner Roger Morningstar, said his clients were satisfied with the outcome.
“That was a piece of land that Sport 2 Sport was happy to operate for a number of years,” Emert said. “But with the changes in the structure of that dam, it was going to render the use of property meaningless for what we wanted to do with it.”
John Hamilton, the attorney for the watershed district, said officials were still working on acquiring easements from neighboring property owners. He said the project won’t effect existing structures. The district was hoping to wrap that process up by mid-August because it has a September deadline to accept a federal allocation for $1 million to assist with the project.
Dick Stuntz, a district board member and president of Alvamar Inc., said Tuesday that 30 adjoining landowners had voluntarily chosen to become part of a benefit district and that district officials were still working to acquire small sections of easement from about 40 landowners primarily on the northeast and northwest sides of the lake. He said because of the short timeline, the district would likely seek eminent domain soon if property owners don’t respond to requests.
Many large, luxurious houses line the hilltops around much of the lake. The lake does not have public access.
“That’s a discussion for another day,” Stuntz said.
Douglas County officials said the public interest in improvement of the dam comes from the protection of the nearby highways and infrastructure from a major flood. The state estimated Clinton Parkway and K-10 could sustain $8 million each in damage in a major flood.
“The public interest was primarily to protect infrastructure and provide flood control,” County Commissioner Jim Flory said.