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City to approve wetlands project; falcons soon will call Lawrence home
Construction work really is underway on the South Lawrence Trafficway project, but building roads isn't the only thing that will be going on near 31st and Haskell.
Crews also will be building wetlands. If you have followed the South Lawrence Trafficway project, you know that the Kansas Department of Transportation has been building about 300 acres of wetlands to replace the approximately 55 acres of existing wetlands that will be disturbed by the trafficway project.
KDOT, however, won't get to have all the wetland fun. The city of Lawrence needs to build wetlands too. That's because the city's is responsible for building part of 31st Street that will stretch from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. That project will disturb about five acres of wetland and stream riparian areas, mostly south and east of the Mary's Lake area.
Like KDOT, the city is planning to contract with Baker University to construct and manage the area. Baker has been managing the existing wetlands south of 31st Street for several decades.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday are scheduled to finalize a deal with Baker, and also a land purchase with KDOT. City staff members recommend that the city buy about 11 acres of low-lying ground near the Wakarusa River, just east of where the East 1500 Road bridge crosses the Wakarusa River. The city is proposing to pay $71,500, or about $6,500 per acre.
The city then proposes to pay Baker up to $60,925 to do all the planting (about 1,400 trees and shrubs will be planted in the riparian area), maintenance and federal reporting that is required with the project. Baker ultimately would be given ownership of the property and the responsibility of caring for it into perpetuity. As part of the $60,925, the city is proposing to pay about $27,000 into an endowment fund that would be used to care for the area in the future.
The project will expand the natural areas near the Wakarusa River that are under the control of Baker University. The 300 acres of wetlands that have been built south and west of 31st and Louisiana will be an active public area with a visitors center. No word yet on whether this little area will be one that Baker opens up to the public.
Commissioners are expected to give routine approval to the plan. The mitigation work must be done to meet federal requirements, and the city already has approved a $3.9 million bid to build the extension of 31st Street, and also has agreed to the financing of the project. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Perhaps we'll see some falcons at Tuesday's city commission meeting. No, I'm not thinking they'll show up to speak on behalf of the wetland project, although it may produce a nice new neighborhood of mice and snakes and other fast food for falcons.
Instead, city commissioners are scheduled to approve an ordinance that would make it legal to house falcons in the city, if certain conditions are met. If you remember, we reported last month that a Lawrence attorney had sought a change in the city's law that would allow people who have a state license to work with falcons to keep them in the city limits. The attorney had a client with such a state license who is planning to move to the city.
City Hall staff members reviewed the request and recommend approval, with the conditions that any raptors kept in the city must be in a locked cage and that it would be illegal for falconers to allow their birds to actually fly in the city.
• If falcons were allowed to fly in the city, I bet you the City Hall Web masters could create a neat GPS map that would allow you to log on and see their locations. The city's website is fairly advanced, and it now has a new look.
The city in recent days has unveiled its new design for the website — lawrenceks.org. Megan Gilliland, the city's communications manager, told me recently that one of the biggest improvements to the site is that it now automatically adjusts to fit the size of the device you are using to access it. That means the site should be friendlier for people who are accessing it via smart phones or tablets. The city estimates about 50 percent of its Web users access the site by mobile devices. (That explains the crazy drivers on 23rd Street. Everybody is reading city planning documents on their phones. Too much excitement.)
Gilliland said the site also was moved to a new server that should increase the speed at which the site works. It is a data heavy site with about 6,500 different pages and about 150,000 documents that can be accessed.
The site also has a different look with a new navigation bar and enhanced search functions. The redesign has been in the works for about two months.