Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bill to double fees to dredge sand from the Kansas River is probably stalled

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — A proposal to double the royalty paid to the state for sand dredged from the Kansas River was buried in committee Friday.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing on the proposal, but after the meeting Chairman Larry Powell, R-Garden City, said he doubted there would be a vote on the bill.

Powell said he sensed most committee members opposed the measure.

Still, the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence and the ranking Democrat on the committee, said it was good to air out the issue, and that the proposal will probably be debated again.

"We heard very good testimony. Nothing happens quickly," Francisco said.

Senate Bill 300 would have increased from 15 cents per ton to 30 cents per ton the royalty paid to the state for sand taken from the Kansas River.

Laura Calwell, the Kansas Riverkeeper with Friends of the Kaw, which works to protect the Kansas River, said sand dredging was destroying sandbars and causing erosion of banks, which meant that farmers were losing farmland to the river.

Calwell said doubling the sand royalties would provide an incentive for sand dredgers to move out of the river and into pit-mining.

"There is lots of sand in the Kansas River Valley," she said.

But Woody Moses, managing director of the Kansas Aggregate Producers Association, said raising the price of sand will increase the price of construction materials. "The benefits we derive from it is far more valuable than the impact of driving us off the river," Moses said.

He also said that moving sand dredgers out of the Kansas River to private operations would deprive the state of revenue.

Moses disagreed that dredging hurt the river, saying that erosion occurs naturally. He said the deep holes caused by dredging attracted large fish, which were preferred by eagles nesting along the Kansas River.

The 15-cent-per-ton rate for sand has been in place since 1996.

Francisco said the fee has been raised in the past "so I'm thinking that at some point that may happen again."