City officials and state reps tour neighborhood with giant Evergy power poles

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Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson and State Representative Gail Finney led state, county, and city leaders of a tour around neighborhoods in Wichita's northeast side Tuesday afternoon where massive Evergy power poles have caused anger among residents.

There has been some progress to get the poles replaced in some areas, but, according to Johnson, that hasn't been the case in other areas.

Finney used the tour to lobby for HB 2317 that will put more oversight in place over how and where companies like Evergy, formerly Westar, can install these 105 foot tall, steel power poles. 

"It's one thing to see a news story or to see a few pictures, but to be standing on the street and see that there is this massive pole fifteen to twenty feet in front of someone's door, what that looks like and how a neighborhood now looks like an industrial area," Johnson said. "It allows you to see why a bill like this is so important to support to make sure something like this doesn't happen to any other neighborhood in the state of Kansas."

Residents in the area, like Kenyal Lattimore, shared their experiences with the power poles.  She described how she constantly has to explain what the poles even are to visitors to her home.

"It's not something that you see commonly in any other neighborhood. But you see it in my neighborhood and I'm asked to accept it," Lattimore said.

Because she lives across the street from the power poles, instead of having one on her property, she says she got no warning they were even going in.  

"There was no communication until after they were there," she said.  "We didn’t even know why was it even put on our street? Where is it going? What is it for? Who is it for?"

Lattimore, who bought her home through Habitat for Humanity, committed to staying in the neighborhood for at least ten years. So even though she and others say property values are falling because of the poles, she can't go anywhere.

"As for me and my family we’re stuck there," she told lawmakers.  "No one seems to be having the conversation abut the people, how it’s affecting the people on the other side because when I go to resell my house, it's still going to be there.  It's still going to affect that." 

"Folks who worked hard their whole life, acquired a house, and they want to pass it down to their kids or grand kids, what's it worth now?" Johnson asked.  "Because there's a steel pole right out in front or across the street and that's not really fair to them.  It's not fair to work your whole life for something and have this mistake, which everyone has agreed it is a mistake, but it's impacted peoples lives."

Evergy says the poles were an upgrade on a main power artery that already ran through the area.  The route stayed the same.  

"The technology needs or energy needs they have now are not the same thing that they had in the 1960s or the 1970s," Jeff Beasley, Evergy Vice President of Customer Operations. That's when he said Westar installed the old, wooden poles.  "Equipment is different."

Beasley says the company could have done a better job of communicating with residents.  

"We could have done better at explaining what the construction would look like," he said.  He added, "I think there's a middle ground that we'll be able to find."

Evergy has announced a December 3rd open house at St. Mark United Methodist Church from 5-7 p.m. to unveil some alternate options for residents and get their input on which direction to go. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Finney is hopeful Tuesday's bus tour will help pass her bill that would stop what she calls the "bait and switch" tactics that led to the poles' construction in the first place.  Her bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee.  

"It's not just only people that have a pole in their yard or across the street. but it affects our whole neighborhood. If you think of the aesthetics of it, it's really, really ugly," Finney said.  "I want (lawmakers) to realize that this could happen to them and I want them to see the impact this has had on our community." 

That's all Lattimore says she wants now, too.

"If I had a choice I would just move. But I don’t have that choice," Lattimore said.  "Maybe somehow, some way make this better for others and maybe this doesn’t happen again to other people." 

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