For the past three years, church leaders have asked officials to open pools in public high schools during summer. They were victorious again this year, winning evening access at Washington and Wyandotte high schools. But those pools are far from Rosedale, and the outlets where swimmers must buy swimming tickets are two highways, a river and at least a dozen railroad tracks away.
Mike Connor, director of parks and recreation, says a ticket outlet in Rosedale would do little to help Rosedale kids without access to cars. "Of course, they don't have pools in that area," he says. "So they'd need a ride to get to the pool anyway."
To swim at night, you must buy a ticket during the day. "I had to take off work to get mine out at Indian Springs," says Frankie Lawsen, a member of Christ the King Church. Her congregation is part of the Wyandotte Interfaith Sponsoring Council, which began the drive to open the pools in 1998. Tickets are available at Indian Springs Marketplace, the parks and recreation offices at 50th Street and State Avenue, and Wyandotte County Lake at 91st Street and Leavenworth Road.
Low attendance threatens the program. "This is the third year we've been [opening the high school pools], and we're trying to give it our best shot," Connor says. "But it's fairly expensive, especially for the lifeguards. When only nine swimmers show up and you have four people working on staff, it's a touchy ratio."
The Reverend Ellis Robinson, former president of WISC, recalls that during the first year of the program the pools were so packed, kids were waiting to get in. "But the following summer," he says, "there was not an effort to continue the program. It was as if parks and rec didn't plan to make it an ongoing thing."
The program hasn't been promoted, Lawsen says. "With a lack of publicity," she says, "nobody knows the pools are open. Nobody knows where to buy tickets. Why should WISC have to publicize this when the city is running the program?" She says she recently took her grandkids to one of the pools only to find the school doors locked. She says officials told her the pool was closed because of a swimmer's nosebleed in the water earlier in the day.
So without a nearby pool or ticket office, Rosedale kids must turn to nature, which for them is Turkey Creek, the tree-lined waterway that flanks their neighborhood. Its rippling current consists almost entirely of effluent from the Nelson Complex, a Johnson County sewage plant operating a couple hundred yards into the wealthy side of the county line ("Dishonorable Discharge," May 3). Eventually, under a federal decision reached in June, the plant may incur fines if the overall toxicity of its effluent is too great, although a Rosedale activist says far more needs to be done to protect the community's health.
The sewage plant's outdated permit allows 13 million gallons of treated wastewater to be dumped into the creek each day. After the permit expired in 1991, Kansas officials drafted a new one for the Nelson Complex, but regulators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found it offered insufficient protection of aquatic life. Now federal officials finally have cleared the way for stricter toxicity limits in the plant's next permit.
"We're glad the permit process is now moving forward again," says Johnson County's chief wastewater engineer, John Metzler.
But the news disappointed Wendy Wilson, director of the Rosedale Development Corporation. As proposed, the new permit would do nothing to reduce the occurrences when Turkey Creek carries dangerously high levels of disease-bearing fecal coliform bacteria. "Obviously I'd like to see that addressed in some way," she says. Spikes in fecal coliform often come after heavy rains.
Meanwhile, EPA officials prepare to educate Rosedale residents about the hazards of Turkey Creek. They plan to visit the creek on hot days this summer. "If, in the course of our visits, we see children swimming, we'll try to talk with them one-on-one" about the potential dangers, says Mary Mindrup of the EPA.
The challenge of finding a safe place to swim will remain, however.