August 21, 2014

Commissioners to revisit snake habitat issue on Aug. 30

Mark Taylor
mtaylor@gardnernews.com
For the second time in as many weeks, Johnson County Commissioners tabled a discussion Aug. 16 on whether to spend $175,000 to mitigate the loss of a snake habitat.
According to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), two protected species of snakes would be displaced by the county’s plan to enlarge the Blue River Main Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The state wants the county to make habitat improvements to 11.73 acres of the treatment plant property.
KDWPT also wants the county to maintain and monitor the habitat for five years, “plus additional monitoring thereafter.”
Commissioners — some of whom have called the state’s mandate “absurd” — plan to revisit the issue on Aug. 30.
John O’Neil, wastewater director, said commissioners want to meet with state officials before discussing the issue further.
“We are having a challenge getting state and county officials’ calendars coordinated so they can discuss this issue and hopefully reach a mutually acceptable conclusion,” O’Neil told The Gardner News.
At issue are two species of state-protected snakes — the redbelly snake and the smooth earth snake.
The snakes were described to commissioners as “very small snakes” and “non-venomous.”
A briefing sheet stated that one of the species “appears to have never been found in Johnson County.”
The sewer district enlargement was authorized by the county in 2007 at an estimated cost of $4.3 million.
It includes an area of about 563 acres in southwest Shawnee — roughly bordered between 83rd Street and Monticello Road.
Commissioners said they wanted more information on the state’s mandate before proceeding with the measure.
Three property owners want to connect to the sewer district.
Commissioners Calvin Hayden and Jim Allen called the endangered habitat request “absurd.”
“We are being held hostage here,” Hayden said.

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