Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Jennifer Johnson-Leach, assistant general manager with Peoples Telecommunications LLC, talks about Internet service across the county during a community input session at the Prairie View Performing Arts Center on Monday, July 19 (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)
LA CYGNE – The first of three meetings for public input for an update of the Linn County Comprehensive Plan became became somewhat derailed over the issues of wind turbines and the expected closure of the La Cygne Generating Station within the next 20 years.
The meeting, held at the Prairie View Performing Arts Center on Monday, July 19, was attended by about 50 people.
In opening remarks to the session, Linn County Commissioner Chair Rick James said that the current comprehensive plan was bad, adding that a small group of people had input into the plan.
Claire Collins, a consultant from Virginia hired by the county to develop the plan, spent the first half hour of the meeting talking about statistics gleaned from a variety of sources. She also gave the audience a look at more than 170 responses received from county residents, land owners and other interested individuals.
Among the more telling statistics she provided were that the county had a population of about 9,700 with a median household income of nearly $49,000. Eighty-three percent of the households have a computer and 60 percent have Internet service in their homes.
Sixty-seven percent of the tax revenue in the county comes from the energy sector, specifically the La Cygne Generating Station owned by Evergy. Personal property taxes account for 21 percent of tax income; and utilities, railroads and pipelines add 12 percent.
According to Collins’ statistics, travel and tourism contributed $7.9 million to the local economy in 2019, much of that from fuel and food sales along U.S. 69 Highway. Sales taxes created revenue of nearly $5 million in 2020.
Nearly 5,700 housing units were counted in the county, with nearly 78 percent of them owner occupied. The median value of the homes are $110,000.
Collins also discussed a report issued by Evergy in May that it planned to begin closing power plants fueled by coal and moving toward renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. A copy of that report can be found at this link.
Designed to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, the plan calls for the eventual shuttering of coal-fired generators. The La Cygne Unit 1 is slated to shut down by 2032 and Unit 2 by 2039.
Those closures are certain to dramatically affect tax revenues for the county.
As the discussion unfolded, Commissioner James brought state Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican, up to the front of the auditorium to speak about Evergy’s plan to close coal plants as well as her take on alternate sources of power including wind turbines and solar collectors.
Tyson said she was adamantly opposed to House Bill 2072 that was passed by the Kansas Legislature earlier this year. She said under the bill the utility could include a surcharge to help underwrite the costs of closing down the coal-fired plants.
Tyson also suggesting relying on solar and wind energy to provide the main source of power was irresponsible. “The technology is just not there,” she said.
A report from the U.S. Energy Administration in 2019 said that 41 percent of the state’s power was created by wind energy and that was expected to increase as more turbines were installed. And another U.S. Department of Energy said that was a small fraction of the state’s wind generating potential.
Taking the meeting from resident input to an impromptu town hall meeting, Tyson focused the discussion on the power plant and alternate energy for nearly half an hour, drawing criticism from some attendees who wanted to see broader input from other people on a wider range of concerns.
Before Tyson began speaking, Bill Scopp, a Leawood resident who owns property in Linn County, began the discussion on wind turbines, suggesting they be banned under the new plan. He cited problems with installation, short lifespan of turbines, and dangers to wildlife among the negatives.
There were other concerns. Sheryl Bushman, who lives south of Parker, complained about the lack of adequate broadband service in the county. She said she can only access the Internet using her cell phone as a hotspot to connect with a cell phone tower in the area.
Jennifer Johnson-Leach, the assistant general manager of Peoples Telecommunications LLC in La Cygne, said the county had a wide range of areas that had broadband Internet service covered by local companies.
She said her company had worked to install high-speed fiber optic cable in the northeast area of the county including Linn Valley to rural areas a couple miles west of Kansas Highway 7.
Girard-based Craw-Kan Telephone Cooperative, which serves the southeastern portion of the county, similarly has run fiber optic cable to much of the rural area in their district.
Johnson-Leach said her company has run fiber optic to 98 percent of its customers, the exceptions being areas in Tanglewood Lakes where rock has simply made it impossible.
She said that if the county could find grant money, Peoples Telecommunications could install fiber cable in the western part of the county. One obstacle to that might be that areas not covered by Peoples and Craw-Kan are served by Louisiana-based CenturyLink, which has done nothing to improve Internet service in the area except offer DSL service to customers within three miles of its service buildings.
“If CenturyLink is not going to invest in it, they need to let the area go,” Johnson-Leach said.
Construction of railroad bridges and failure to maintain waterways downstream were a primary concern for Janell Aust of Aust Farms, La Cygne. She said projects that slowed drainage from bottom land along the Marais des Cygnes River kept land there from being productive.
She said that her husband, Brad Aust, had been collecting data that showed that the frequency and intensity of flooding had increased over the last few years.
Aust also said that drainage channels between Linn County and Truman Reservoir in Missouri had not been maintained to allow optimum drainage. She also pointed to drainage difficulties created when the railroad closed off bridges when it made track repairs.
Similar meetings were held at Pleasanton High School and Jayhawk-Linn High School on subsequent nights.
Dave Berglund, president of the Linn County Planning and Zoning Board, attended meetings at Prairie View and Jayhawk-Linn. The county's zoning administrator has historically used the comprehensive plan to issue permits and make recommendations to the board.
Berglund said that from his observations, very little had been been discussed on issues like minimum size for lot splits and other issues relating to growth. He was very critical that the end product would be unusable for his board.
The comprehensive plan committee is expected to take the community input and work to update the plan. It is expected to be completed by the end of August.
People who were unable to attend the meeting can still email suggestions for the new plan to email@example.com.