The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this month that it will not renew permits for three dredging operations in the Kansas River near Lawrence, forcing the companies that operate those dredges to pin their hopes for the future on a controversial proposal to develop an open-pit sand mine on dry land next to the river near Eudora.
“It’s disastrous,” said David Penny, owner of Master’s Dredging Co., which operates one of the three dredges affected by the Corps’ decision. He said the Corps’ action effectively puts his company out of business because he was also denied a new permit for dredging in the Missouri River.
Penny is the brother of Bill Penny, owner of Penny’s Concrete, which operates the two other dredging sites where the Corps refused to extend permits. Penny’s is currently applying for a permit from Douglas County to open a sand-pit mine operation on dry land south of the river near Eudora.
“It does make (the county permit) more important because we have to have some place where we can get the sand,” said Melanie Lorenzo, director of aggregate operations for Penny’s. The dredging companies use the sand to make construction materials.
In 2007, the Corps of Engineers granted five-year permits for dredging operations at 10 locations along the Kansas River. One condition of those permits was that they would be terminated in any five-mile reach of the river where the average riverbed elevation drops more than two feet.
In November 2011, as the permits were about to expire, the Corps granted them one-year extensions while it conducted surveys to determine whether they were eligible for renewal. Following that review, the Corps announced that dredging would have to cease in two of the three sites between Lawrence and Eudora, and a third site, about a half-mile downstream from the Bowersock Dam, would be significantly reduced.
Not everyone was disappointed by the Corps’ decision, however.
“We are pleased that the Corps, due to unacceptable bed degradation, is moving three of 10 dredge operations off the river,” said Laura Calwell of the local conservation group Friends of the Kaw, which opposes river dredging in general. “Still, we think the Corps has plenty of scientific evidence to cease all dredging on the Kaw, right now.”
Steve Layman, who lives on the north side of the river in Leavenworth County, just across from the Eudora site where Penny’s operates a dredge and hopes to open its pit mine, said he was also pleased with the decision.
“If you sit in my house and stare out the back window, I’m the person who has the elevated view of it,” Layman said.
He said the current dredging operation has been a source of constant noise problems for himself and for neighbors as far as a mile away from the dredge.
The noise was especially bad recently, he said, when the dredge, with its two diesel engines, was operating throughout the night.
Layman was among a group of Leavenworth County residents who forced Douglas County officials to restart the entire application process for the proposed pit mine. Even though many of them live within the area where Douglas County officials were required to give public notice of the proposal, Douglas County failed to notify them because they live outside the county.
As a result, the hearing and review process will start anew next week when the Planning Commission holds another public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Planning Commission meets at City Hall in Lawrence, 6 E. Sixth St.