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KUJH-TV News:Haskell-Baker Wetland fight continues

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Uploaded on Nov 4, 2008

Mike Caron visits the Haskell-Baker Wetlands several times a week. Sometimes by himself, he explores a trail on the North side that parallels 31st Street. The trail starts at Broken Arrow Park and stretches to the North side of the open water across from the Baker Wetlands entrance. From there the trail continues into the woods past several old beaver ponds. Other times Caron can be found on the boardwalk in the Baker Wetlands giving tours and taking people along the canal to the area owned by KU.

The Haskell Wetlands Preservation Organization and its allies, which include two KU student organizations, filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration and the Kansas Department of Transportation. The lawsuit will temporarily block the construction of the eastern portion of the South Lawrence Trafficway through the Baker Wetlands.

The proposed eastern portion of the South Lawrence Trafficway would run eight to ten lanes of highway right through the wetlands. Twelve-foot concrete barriers would also be built to prevent anything from crossing the highway. The plaintiffs are challenging the Federal Highway Administrations Record of Decision to permit KDOT to continue construction of the South Lawrence Trafficways eastern portion.

To many opponents of the trafficway the wetlands are thought of as sacred because of its history and the Native American ancestors who could have died within the wetlands. The WPOs press release stated that, These wetlands have been widely recognized as an essential part of Haskells history. The story of how indigenous traditions and cultures survived during the repressive off-reservation boarding school era is intimately tied to these wetlands.

The Baker University Wetlands Research and Natural Area is a 573-acre area south of Lawrence. The area contains 45 acres of native wetland prairie. The Baker Wetlands are home to a variety of habitats that support an assortment of fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds.

The wetlands south of Lawrence are very important for ecological, academic, recreational and definitely spiritual purposes. And I dont think people realize that and probably need to look into a little bit more and realize the same, said Ryan Callihan, vice president of KU Environs.

I think the wetlands are very important for all those reasons. The construction of this trafficway is not going to inhibit any of those uses but actually heighten the amount of wetlands that are available and allow more people more access to the wetlands I think in an easier fashion, said Mayor Mike Dever.

Dever also said that he thinks the city of Lawrence needs a route around town to restrict the amount of traffic flow down 23rd Street. He said he thought the trafficway was an opportunity to do that but was unsure whether it was in the perfect place.

The plaintiffs include the Haskell Wetlands Preservation Organization, Save the Wakarusa Wetlands, Inc., Sierra Club, Jayhawk Audubon Society and two University of Kansas student organizations, EcoJustice and KU Environs. The plaintiffs are also receiving support from Native American tribes across the country.

The plaintiffs focused their arguments on the fact that the State of Kansas and Federal administrators did not search out the alternatives to build south of the Wakarusa River in great enough detail. The WPO claims that if the project is built it will detract from the use and enjoyment of the wetlands because of the noise, pollution and reduction of wildlife the project will cause.

For now, nobody knows when and whether the federal judges will take the case. Caron said if the federal judges do take the case, then whoever loses will almost certainly file an appeal and the waiting process will continue. Supporters of the trafficway plan to build 300 acres of man-made wetlands to compensate for the destruction of the Baker Wetlands.

Caron also said that he believes KU specifically needed to know that their institution played an enormous role in Haskell losing that wetland in the first place. In fact, he said, KU played an incredibly central role and that it was only at the last minute when KU found out it was all going to blow up in their face that it was turned over to Baker University instead. KU is directly responsible for Haskell losing that property.

As for now Mike Caron will do what he has done for years: continue his efforts to help save the Baker Wetlands by taking interested people out to the wetlands and telling them the history and current issues about the area.

For more, visit tv.ku.edu

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