By Murrel Bland

In 2005 I was working with a friend who had the contract to produce a technical manual for the Vactor truck. Part of that project was to show how this truck cleans out sewers and catch basins. The Vactor truck is manufactured in Streeter, Ill.

I had arranged for a photo shoot near 17th Street and Central Avenue that would show the truck in action. I hadn’t been at the location more than a few minutes when area residents approached me—they thought I was from the Unified Government. They wanted to know when I was going to solve their sewer problems—when it rained a lot, storm water mixed with sewer water.

This problem continues today, particularly in the eastern areas of Kansas City, Kansas. This became painfully apparent to Jeff Fisher who became public works director for the Unified Government about two and one-half years ago.

One of the first things Fisher did after taking the job here was to establish priority for needed infrastructure. Among other things, he visited the Argentine community where a home was immersed in two feet of storm water.

Fisher commissioned Black and Veach, a consulting engineering firm based in Overland Park, to study how to deal with the storm water problem in Kansas City, Kansas. Presently everyone in Kansas City, Kansas, who receives a water bill from the Board of Public Utilities receives a monthly charge of $4.50 for storm water maintenance. The Unified Government is saying that such a flat fee is unfair as the charge is not proportional. The Unified Government has suggested a proposed fee based on the size of impervious areas. An impervious area is all types of hard surfaces such as pavements, buildings, patios, driveways, compacted soil and gravel.

Most residential properties would pay $5.90 a month according to the new proposed fee schedule. A typical non-residential property would $49.50 a month.

There has been a substantial objection to high fees that non-residtial properties would have to pay. That was quite evident from meetings convened by the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce at Kansas City, Kansas, Community College. Businesses hit particularly hard have included The Woodlands, the Kansas Speedway and car dealers in Village West. The Community College, which has about 125 acres covering its two campuses, would pay about $71,000 a year in storm water fees.

Fisher told the Chamber members and other interested parties that he has agreed to reduce the amount of fees by about half. Eric Gentry, who owns two auto dealerships in Village West, said that the reduction is a move in the right direction, but that it needs to be more.

Phil Gibbs, a consulting engineer who has done considerable work in the Village West area, said that businesses in the area should receive discounts on their efforts to control storm water. Rusty Roberts, owner of Reece Nichols Roberts Realtors, said that he had to invest a substantial amount of money in a retention pond that is near his office building.

The low-lying areas of Kansas City, Kansas, have long-suffered from the storm water problem. About one-fifth of the city’s land mass is in a flood plain. During the 1950s, there was a push to develop a flood control program by building a series of upstream reservoirs. One of the strongest supporters of this program came from the Fairfax Industrial Area.

I recall taking a geological course at the University of Kansas in Lawrence in the early 1960s. The instructor was Dr. Andrew Ireland. He was adamantly opposed to the reservoir plan, saying that it was taking thousands of acres of quality farmland out of production. He railed about substantially interfering with the natural flow of water. Dr. Ireland said anyone who builds in a flood plain runs the risk of being flooded.

When I was doing research for my book on The 50s in Wyandotte County, I talked with Rex Buchanan, who was then the director of the Kansas Geological Survey. He said that the reservoir system has worked fairly well in preventing floods. However, the reservoirs have serious silting problems. And the dam at the Tuttle Creek Reservoir near Manhattan is built on an earthquake fault.

Kansas City, Kansas, dodged the flood bullet in 1993. During that same period, the BPU nearly lost its water system. That motivated the utility to build a new water system that wasn’t vulnerable to flooding.

The argument can be made that development should not have been built in a flood plain. But now that it has happened, it makes sense to protect what is there, even though it will be quite expensive. The Unified Government is to be commended for facing the problem. However, its proposal is too much too soon. And those in the Village West Area who have invested in infrastructure to deal with storm water need to receive more credit for their efforts.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West.