Compromise on ‘Abominable’ Utility Poles Bill Helps Wichitans But Leaves Out Small Towns
Residents were taken by surprise by the installation of giant power poles in Northeast Wichita in 2019, but not this time, thanks to a law change proposed by former Kansas Rep. Gail Finney.

More big  power poles are coming – no matter what anyone says.

Evergy needs to get more power to Wichita State University to help support the expansion of the Innovation Campus on the site of the old Braeburn Golf Course and that means running new transmission lines from a substation at Ninth and Chautauqua to the substation on the east side of the WSU campus..

First district councilman Brandon Johnson told residents in attendance at his District Advisory Board (DAB) meeting on June 12 that he has been working with Evergy to come up with a route that is the least intrusive to the community.

Two potential routes have been considered.

One would have gone north from Ninth along Volutsia to 16th Street, then east along 16th Street to Fairmount Park, then north to the campus substation.

The other route, which is the one being advanced, sends the line to WSU by going along the Redbud Trail, a walking trail built on the abandoned railroad right of way. That path avoids putting the large transmission poles in anyone’s front yard. 

The trail passes just south of the 9th and Chautauqua substation, crosses Hillside just south Ninth Street and curves northeast, crossing 13th Street just south of MacDonald Golf Course, then continues east of Fairmount Park to 17th and Oliver.

Johnson said he supported the Redbud Trail path because the alternative would have impacted even more residences. 

Residents along route unhappy

But the residents who will take the property value hit that comes with high-transmission lines are not happy and they made that known at the board meeting.

“Front yard or back yard, these polls are disfiguring and inappropriate in a neighborhood setting,” said resident Kim Curry. “We need to save the special assets we have: our beautiful tree-lined bike path, the Black History Plaza, historic Maple Grove Cemetery and MacDonald Golf Course. We are panic stricken about our property values, our health and our quality of life.” 

Curry said all the trees on one side of the trail will be cut down in order to put up the giant poles.

She said the poles will destroy the beauty of the trail, with its trees and wildlife. 

Residents in the area also expressed concern about potential health hazards, including cancer, from having high-voltage transmission lines overhead. 

A decrease in property values are associated with transmission lines in a neighborhood.

Another resident, Andrew Herr, suggested that a better option would be to bury the lines underground.

“Is burying lines expensive?” he asked. “Sure. Evertything’s expensive, but I’ll bet a lot of the people here barely broke even or lost money last year, but you know who didn’t: Evergy.  They made $783 million in revenue last year.“

He cited a Journal of Real Estate research report that found that property that is located within 100 feet of high-voltage transmission lines tends to sell for 18% to 44% less.

“If just 1,000 residents lose $20,000 on the value of their home, that’s a $20 million dollar loss that the residents have to bear. That loss won’t hit Evergy, even though they made $783 million in revenue last year,” he said. 

Herr said underground power is often expensive because of the complications that come with the integration with other utilities present such as gas and water.  Those problems wouldn’t be an issue along the Redbud Trail, he said, because it is an abandoned railroad and doesn’t have existing underground utilities.  

“We don’t have those problems along the railroads.  In fact, we have ideal conditions for underground burial right there along the railroad.  It would reduce costs, would provide a fair compromise for everyone and I’m really hoping that some of you guys will consider putting some effort into making that a reality,” he said.

Residents also expressed concern about the proposal to put lights on the poles. Johnson said he suggested lights on the pole in response to women who walked the path who said they were concerned about safety on the path after dusk. 

A suggestion was that possibly the lights could be put on a timer.  

Size of poles not yet determined

The individuals most impacted were also concerned about the size and width of the poles.

A representative of Evergy, Richard Atkins, said he didn’t know what size the poles would be.  Typically these poles can run from 90 feet to 105 feet. Taller poles require a larger base, but taller poles can also be placed further apart, which would result in fewer poles along the path. 

Johnson said Evergy has agreed to put the rustic version of the poles along the path.  Instead of the galvanized grey color poles, these poles are metal, but have a darker wood-colored finish.  

In 2020, Kansas Rep. Gail Finney succeeded in getting the law changed to require notification of affected residents when a transmission line is going to be placed in a residential area. That came a result the outrage after Evergy, which was then Westar, surprised residents in the Ninth and Grove area with the installation of 105-foot poles.

Evergy is required to notify affected neighbors of the proposed installation. In addition, they’re required to have a meeting with the community in advance of finalizing the plans.  Evergy has agreed to hold two meetings, one after completion of 30% of the design, to receive community input and one after completion of 90% of the design.  

Nearby affected residents will receive notice of both meetings.  

A member of the Kansas Corporate Commission, who oversees public utilities and must approve the plan, will be in attendance to hear community input.  The City has no authority to deny the transmission route.