Gov. Sam Brownback called on Sedgwick County to take over the street in the tornado-ravaged Pinaire Mobile Home Park so that the government can do more to help with cleanup and debris removal.
But county officials said Thursday they are reluctant to convert the street from private to public, citing issues of legality, liability and the possibility of doing more harm to people whose homes were wrecked by the storm.
Brownback called on the County Commission to take over the street after returning to the tornado-shattered trailer park Thursday and finding little progress had been made since he was there Sunday, the day after the storm swept through.
“I just was talking with Commissioner (David) Unruh about getting the street there that is a private street designated for a while a public street so we could use the public equipment to get some of the debris removal done, just to clean up stuff, but it needs to happen to move things forward,” Brownback said.
The governor spoke Thursday at the Wichita Business Journal’s annual Best in Business Awards luncheon. During his speech, he also asked businesspeople to step up and donate reliable used cars through the Salvation Army.
“The folks, particularly in the trailer park that got hit hard, they lost the trailer, the car got smashed, it would be a great benefit,” Brownback said
He also asked the businesspeople to donate use of their heavy equipment to help in the recovery.
“If anybody has skid loaders that they can loan and have people to operate them … they (the storm victims) can sure use some,” Brownback said.
While the tornado damaged areas in the city of Wichita, the places hardest hit were in Oaklawn, an unincorporated community just outside the city limits and under county government control. The mobile home park suffered the most serious damage, with numerous trailers blown off their blocks and in some cases, slammed about and wrapped around trees.
Unruh said he doesn’t think the county will be able to comply with the governor’s request to turn the private street into a public street.
Immediately after the storm, the county did send in equipment to clear the private street so emergency vehicles could have access. And the county has situated a trash bin nearby for residents to use and clear debris piles along the public streets, Unruh said.
But, he said that’s about as far as it can go without jeopardizing funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The problem is that the mobile home park is itself a private business with a mix of rental trailers owned by the management and units owned by homeowners who rented space.
“It’s our policy and our responsibility that we don’t go on private property and start doing things,” Unruh said. “Our responsibility is to take care of public streets and debris and stuff that’s out there on the edge of the street, but not go do work on or for private entities.”
Unruh also said the residents of the park need time to sift through the debris and salvage whatever personal belongings they can from the disaster.
“If we get too aggressive in trying to clean up, you know we don’t want to be … interfering with some of their efforts to retrieve personal items, whether it’s hard goods or whether it’s memorabilia or what it might be,” Unruh said.
“Declaring a road a public road for the short term so that we can go in and clean up a bunch of stuff, before these folks have had an opportunity to do their own efforts on their own private property, I just don’t see how we can do that very easily.”