Community activists gather to protest South Lawrence Trafficway

A protest of the South Lawrence Trafficway stretched Sunday from Douglas County’s seat of power to the edge of the Baker Wetlands on 31st Street.

“This is where it started, with Douglas County,” said Anjanette Bitsie as she pointed toward the Douglas County Courthouse.

nearly 200 people participated in a protest march from South Park to the Baker Wetlands. The protesters Sunday were voicing opposition to the South Lawrence Trafficway.

At noon Sunday about 125 people gathered at South Park, then marched down Massachusetts Street, through the Haskell Indian Nations University campus and on to Broken Arrow Park, where they waved signs at the corner of 31st and Louisiana streets. During the march, the group swelled to about 200 people, many holding signs reading “Save the wetlands” and “SLT = Big $ Scam.”

The event was coordinated with Earth Day and brought together community members and students from Haskell, Kansas University and Baker University, said organizer Bitsie, a Haskell and KU alumna and member of the Wetlands Preservation Organization.

Bitsie said that in the past, Haskell’s viewpoint had been left out of the process of drafting a statement of the South Lawrence Trafficway’s impact on the environment.

A 1990 environmental impact statement failed to include wetlands on Haskell property north of 31st Street, and in December 1992, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to notify Haskell about plans to mitigate the wetlands, and approved the plan without public hearing.

Though the western nine miles of the trafficway were completed in November 1996, the Federal Highway Administration pulled out of the project shortly thereafter without completing a supplemental environmental impact statement. Lawsuits by the Wetlands Preservation Organization and environmentalists forced the completion of the SEIS, which came out with a “no build” recommendation in March 2000.

At that point, the trafficway was thought to be dead until about a year later, when KDOT released a new proposal to complete the SLT on 32nd Street property owned by Baker University.

Now that the plan for completing the SLT through the Baker Wetlands is on the table again, Bitsie said it was important to make the voices of Haskell, environmentalists and area students heard.

“We’re included, but not in the way that we’d like to be included,” she said.

Tribal leaders from Kansas and Oklahoma and members of the Sierra Club joined the Wetlands Preservation Organization in the protest.

Jackie Mitchell, a Haskell Board of Regents member representing the four tribes of Kansas, said she would be meeting with the U.S. Corps of Engineers Friday.

The Haskell Board of Regents also opposes building the trafficway through the wetlands, she said.

“We will be reviewing that and have another response at our May meeting,” Mitchell said.