Wetlands expansion begins as part of South Lawrence Trafficway plan
Work to expand the Baker Wetlands - one of the first steps required to complete the controversial South Lawrence Trafficway - has begun.
Baker University announced Wednesday morning that work to restore a 142-acre site west of Louisiana Street and the Wakarusa River has started. The site, currently a farm field, long has been identified as an area to be converted into wetlands to replace any wetlands lost as part of the trafficway construction, which is slated to run through the Baker Wetlands near 31st Street.
University leaders, however, stressed that Wednesday's work does not signal the start of construction of the actual road. No roadwork is being done in the current Baker Wetlands.
Instead, the Kansas Department of Transportation has given Baker University $415,000 in funding to begin phase one of the environmental mitigation process that is required if the road is to be built through the wetlands.
"We are grateful for the opportunity to restore the land since our original wetlands were such a success," said Roger Boyd, the university's director of natural areas. "By allowing more acres to be planted, Baker will have the opportunity to nurture and preserve the natural areas for decades to come."
The trafficway project has been hotly contested by environmentalists and members of the Native American community, who object to the road being built through the wetlands.
But state and federal transportation leaders have signed off on permits for the road to be built along a 32nd Street route, which would put the road in the Baker Wetlands just south of 31st Street.
Transportation officials have said the route is appropriate, in part, because the project will include a large mitigation program. The program includes expanding the wetlands area, creating a wetlands education center, and improving access to the wetlands.
The mitigation plan also includes rerouting Louisiana Street and Haskell Avenue farther away from the current wetlands area.