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Neighbors feel voices finally heard after signing of ceremonial bill

Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 5:55 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - People living in a northeast Wichita neighborhood say they feel like their voices have finally been heard. This comes after Evergy built dozens of 90-foot transmission poles in the neighborhood near 13th and Hydraulic, some directly in front yards.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly on Thursday, April 29, was in Wichita to sign a ceremonial bill that now will require companies like Evergy to notify cities before building any of the transmission lines that many view as eyesores. Many neighbors were not happy when the poles were added. Now, many are thankful after local leaders and representatives helped their voices to be heard.

“In the beginning, it was kind of contentious because I was kind of emotional because I love the 67214 (zip code). This is my home,” Kansas Rep. Gail Finney said of the neighborhood where Evergy installed the transmission poles. When the poles were installed, Evergy, then Westar Energy, explained that they were meant to help provide more electricity to areas like Wichita State University and Wesley Medical Center. Neighbors in the area of 11th and Minnesota, impacted by the first phase of the project southeast of 13th and Hydraulic, weren’t happy.

Approaching three years later, Finney led the way to get House Bill 2321 signed by Governor Kelly. The bill requires companies to give a “heads up” to the city and to neighborhoods before construction of polls that many do not want on their properties.

“What it does is, over six months, gives you multiple opportunities to hear and see the proposed plans with the new urban transmission line upgrades and provide that feedback,” Wichita City Councilmember Brandon Johnson explained. “And it will be in public record and a sitting member of the KCC will be there to hear it.”

Evergy CEO and President David Campbell said “sometimes (they) get it wrong.”

“And we’ve learned through this process, there’s lessons to be learned,” he said. ‘And we definitely have learned them. “We’ve already incorporated changes to our process, our communication protocol, how we interact with folks, and, of course, this bill will make sure that we do that.”

Representing the Council of Elders, Terrill Florence said the progress with neighborhood voices being heard is hopefully, the first step of many.

“It will allow us from this point on to engage in a constructive conversation,” he said.

Dr. Linus Ohaebosim who has a medical practice in the area, said the help from local and state elected officials is appreciated.

“This is what good government looks like,” Kelly said during Thursday’s visit to Wichita. “It’s the public and private sector working together to find solutions to problems that exist.”

Evergy already has taken steps to make the transmission poles smaller on some streets, but Campbell said they’re still in the works to continue to fix the mistakes. For that, as well, neighbors say they are grateful.

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