The Pottawatomie County Commission will consider a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the South Wheaton rock quarry on Reves Road after it was denied by the planning commission.
County commissioners can either agree with the planning commission and deny the permit by the Mid-States Articles, or they can override it and approve the permit. Several residents who have concerns about the rock quarry spoke to county commissioners at Monday’s meeting.
Matt Opel, a resident of Wheaton, called on the commissioners to come out to the proposed site, walk the area, and speak with those who live near it about their concerns. The three commissioners agreed to go out separately and review the area.
Lawrence Opel, also of Wheaton, emphasized the need for specific rock quarry regulations to be established if the commission approved the permit.
“We shouldn’t tell landowners what to do with their property, but once we don’t, we should be able to protect other landowners in the area,” Opel said. “There are ways to do it. We have the rock in this county that everyone wants. We are also in control of the European Cup.”
Opel went on to encourage the commissioners to include language in the permit to regulate the quarry and protect the owners of the surrounding land. He said, “Come on, people.” “It’s coming. We know it. Let’s organize it. Let’s make them do their business our way.”
Fourth-generation farmer Travis Ross also addressed the committee with his concerns.
“Our farm is below the proposed quarry site,” he said. “We are concerned about the gas line by Wheaton, Blaine and Westmoreland. Not to mention the water lines that feed some of these dwellings. Also, some of our biggest concerns are natural springs. Everyone there has a well. Everyone depends on this water. The potential for pollution to flow downstream.”
Ross also expressed concern about dust, road traffic and bridge loads. He encouraged county commissioners to take their time to review the information before making a decision, and to listen to the planning committee.
County planner Stefan Metzger briefed the commissioners on the CUPs approval process and encouraged them to read the entire package on the Reves Road quarry, so they are ready to make a decision when presented to them in two weeks.
Commissioner Pat Wexelman has expressed frustration that there is no way to ensure that property owners follow the terms written in any approved conditional use permit.
“You define these rules, you set these terms, and if you have no way of enforcing them. … There has to be an individual who is appointed, who is in charge of going out and making sure everything is done right,” Wexman said. From having all these regulations and conditions and you can also sign the paper and throw it in the trash.”
Wexman confirmed his point by throwing the paper in the trash beside him.
Commissioner Greg Reyat agreed with Wexman’s concerns.
“I think there will be, between the solar panels and the places and the quarries, the issues reported and the county has to have some sort of enforcement,” he said. I think this can be easily remedied by charging a license fee, so we don’t have to spend taxpayer dollars. With all things coming, I’d like to look into the license fee and maybe get someone to enforce it.”
Pottawatomie County Doug Kern collected nearly 900 signatures on the petition to add the issue of expanding the Board of Commissioners from three to five on the November ballot.
State law requires 5% of registered voters to sign the petition for it to be included on the ballot, and Kern has estimated that 900 signatures will meet that requirement.
“The statement that will go to the polls is ready to go,” he said. “I would like to ask the commission a favor in that we can save a lot of work for the county clerk’s office if the county commissioners by resolution will put this on the ballot.” Adding the question to the ballot by decision would eliminate the need for the county clerk’s office to verify all petition signatures.
We didn’t poke that dog,” Wexman said. “You’re the wand. And I feel that by doing that we have no idea if your numbers are true or false. We’re just going to run our clerk’s desk. It wasn’t us who started this. It’s up to you to take it to the finish line.”
The Great Lakes Development Center’s 50th anniversary will be in 2023. President and CEO Laurie Feldkamp says the center has a full year of events planned.
“Fifty years of serving Riley, Jerry, Pottawatomie and Clay counties. A pretty big deal. You’re all going to be invited to the party in April,” Feldkamp told the commissioners.
Feldkamp is requesting $179,238 from the county to help cover transportation costs. This is a 3% increase over last year.
Feldkamp reported that they are struggling to find employees. There are currently 100 jobs out of a total of 250 jobs. This limits the ability to extend services. The waiting list for services in Pottawatomie County is 31. The average waiting list time is nine years and eight months.
“In this past legislative session, we worked hard with the state union and we worked hard with our legislators, and we were able to get a 25 percent increase in funding,” Feldkamp said. This will allow for a wage increase from $12.50 to $16.50, which Feldkamp hopes will help fill the positions.
The commission approved requests to replace a 22-year-old lifting station in Eagles Landing and to purchase a sewage inspection camera.
Kyle Minton, a utility operator, requested the items, saying that replacing the lift station would cost $100,000 and the camera would cost $37,022. The price for the materials will be paid through the sewage area fee.
Despite bad weather and the theft of concrete forms from a trailer, construction at Green Valley Road and US Highway 24 is ahead of schedule and under budget.
“The contract says it has to be completed on August 1, and at one point they thought they were two months ahead, now probably more than six weeks ahead of schedule,” said county engineer Nathan Bergman.
County Administrator Chad Kinsley said the project cost an estimated $5.9 million upon completion and $3 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation. The cost so far is $4.4 million.
County counselor “Reminder”
County Councilor John Watt reminded commissioners to work as a group, not as individuals.
“I think you all know that when it comes to boycott policies, you have to work as a group,” he said. “You have to act as a committee. You curse and debate, you make a decision. And that decision is announced. As individuals you don’t have the authority to do anything.”
Watt began to give an example. “Let’s say…Greg, there’s a bridge in your neighborhood and you think something has to be done about it, you can’t go to Nathan and say ‘Make some plans about this…let’s do this…let’s do it’.”
“I’m going to interrupt you, John,” Ryat said. “This conversation has nothing to do with me. It’s not about me. I think it’s time to call it what it is. And I told Chad I’d say this. So, if you want to call the commissioner we’re having problems with, that’s fine. But it wasn’t me.”
“I understand,” Watt said. “I was using that as an easy example. As a hypothetical one. My understanding is that Commissioner (D) Mackey had some conversations with Nathan. As I understand it – I get it second hand – there were directions given and wishes about courses of action. It can’t be done that way. Chad has the authority as an officer to direct the staff. You as individual commissioners do not have that authority. It is a line you must be aware of and a line you must not cross.”
Mackey explained that the scale of what is going on in Blue Township makes it difficult to process everything in meetings. “I don’t suppose I would achieve anything without having to come to the committee,” said Lott. “I respect and understand your comments.
The Times of Pottawatomie County, such as The Manhattan Mercury, is part of Seton Publications.