While the response to Westar’s announcement of a $1 million fund to benefit Wichita’s core Northeast communities had been overwhelmingly positive, leaders – who have been engaged with the utility since it dotted the community with 105-foot-tall transmission poles – expressed concern that the fund does little to help those most impacted.

The $1 million fund, was proposed by the Evergy Community Investment Advisory Board that was formed in response to the community’s complaint about the large electrical transmission lines installed last fall in ZIP code 67214.  The board, comprised of 14 people who live, work and/or serve in Wichita’s District 1, were tasked with suggesting ways Westar could “give back” in response to the polls which property owners and community leaders felt negatively impacted property value and the community’s environment.

“How does this decision directly relate to the impact and the devastation of the people that are right there in that area, where the poles have been placed?” asks Rep. Gail Finney, who represents the area in the Kansas Legislature.

“While this is really good,” Finney continued, “if the concern was the people that were directly impacted, then that’s where the response and the financial benefits should have gone.”

Kenya Cox, president of the Kansas State Conference of NAACP branches, agrees with Finney.

“While this is really good, this is something they should have done anyway,” Cox said.

The NAACP is supporting a bill Finney introduced during this year’s Kansas legislative session that would require all utility companies to obtain a permit, hold public hearings and be held accountable to the Kansas Corporation Commission prior to taking similar action in the future.

In late August 2018, residents of 67214 were surprised when installation began of 57 commercial-grade electrical transmission lines poles in the midst of a residential community.

Finney’s concerns were with both the poles: “monumental towers that are in people’s yard,” lost home value, improper compensation and the process – the lack of transparency and even honesty about the poles that were going to be installed.  Residents were not expecting the very huge poles that were actually installed.

Cox has asked the National NAACP to get involved with the issue.

“We sent all of the documentation and a summarization of the issue to our legal and environmental justice departments to review,” Cox said. 

Cox and Finney were also concerned that the money may end up going to larger non-profits, instead of grassroots organization working hard in the community. 

“Just because you’re a non-profit, doesn’t mean you’re not making money,” said Cox, who went on to reference many larger non-profits who are in strong financial positions in comparison to many of the smaller non-profits working in core Northeast Wichita. 

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