Oil well doesn’t fit downtown
The city of Wichita should deny the approval of a conditional use permit to drill an oil and gas well downtown. According to a July 26 staff report for the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, the 2030 Wichita functional land use guide map depicts the site as being appropriate for “park and open space” land use, and the Project Downtown master plan depicts the site as being appropriate for mixed-use development, including housing and retail.
The city needs additional revenue to continue providing basic services to its residents. But an oil well in downtown Wichita, with its real potential for negative impacts on the downtown area, is probably not a good way to encourage the cleaner development of housing and retail in the same area. The oil and gas industry is, by definition, a dirty business and certainly not compatible for a city center.
Additionally, neither the oil company nor city staff has experience with oil and gas drilling in the metropolitan area.
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I think the city of Wichita should increase its revenue stream by focusing on the appropriate type of downtown development, such as housing and retail, and abandon plans for the much dirtier development of oil and gas.
I took a drive around Wichita Aug. 4. I drove by the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers, up Maize Road to Maize, across the Big Ditch, east to Hillside across the canal, then back west headed home, checking the Dell neighborhood at Maple and Maize Road. What I saw were a lot of green grounds, trees and flowers, and people who were out driving with no problems.
During flooding periods in the past, I remember seeing fish in the flooded fields on the west side of Maize Road north of 21st Street, the Dell area under 4 feet of water, Douglas covered with water, Washington east to Hillside waist deep, the Riverside area flooded from the Little Arkansas, the area around Central and Hoover and on south flooded from the Slough (now the Big Ditch). Elected officials decided to work on the infrastructure for Wichita. As a result, we have rivers and streams cleaned and free-flowing, dikes along banks, and the Big Ditch.
Thank you, elected officials, for thinking ahead and doing what was not popular at the time. We are receiving the benefits now.
I heartily support private real estate development downtown and across Wichita. It creates jobs, enhances quality of life, expands the tax base and provides economic uplift. However, “economic development” incentive handouts transfer the risk and tax burden from developers back to taxpayers, who rarely realize any direct benefits from the projects.
The downtown WaterWalk project essentially gave away 20 acres of prime city-owned land with a reported $41 million incentive package that included diverting tax revenue to the developer with unknown benefits to taxpayers. Compare this with the Waterfront development at 13th and Webb, which received no subsidy and generates an estimated $2.5 million in annual tax revenues for the public treasury.
I believe it is time for the citizens of Wichita to move forward by putting a new marketing program in place titled “Capitalizing on Exceptionalism: A New Chapter in Wichita.” To make it work, we must enlist the support of not just key, wealth-producing, connected people of influence in our community, but also the everyday hardworking citizen entrepreneurs and craftsmen. Creation of a marketing forum for this group will help Wichita realize the city can be exceptional without embracing a “follow the herd” mentality that will lead us to economic destruction and mediocrity.
We must change the “entitlement” mentality that permeates the social and business segments of our whole country, starting in particular with our own community. Wichita can become the exceptional example of economic prosperity others will strive to emulate.
Hallelujah, hallelujah. The heavens have opened, and the question that has gone unanswered for thousands of years was delivered on tablets from the Charles Koch Foundation, straight from its offices on the mountaintop in Arlington, Va. (“Freedom key to well-being,” Aug. 8 Opinion). Behold the truth revealed to us poor mortals for the first time: Free people are happy people. Can’t wait to tell my dog Ranger.
Freedom from oppression of tax-sucking government. Freedom from paying for armies and weapons. Freedom from paying for Social Security. Freedom from public education. Freedom from voters’ rights. Freedom from stoplights and speed limits. Freedom from seat belts and air bags. Freedom from child labor laws. Freedom from restrictions on unsafe products. Freedom from oppressive regulations on Wall Street bankers. Freedom from restrictions on oil and gas monopolies. Freedom from taxes on millionaires and billionaires.
Just think how happy we would all be if we lived in the Charles Koch Foundation world. But a bit of advice: Just make sure you have all the money the foundation has, because you’ll need it to build walls high enough to keep out the mobs of poor, uneducated and hungry in the rest of the world.
What we need is freedom to think for ourselves without all this help from the Charles Koch Foundation. I’ll take Kansas common sense over Koch advertising any day.
Life of service
On Oct. 9, 1964, in Vietnam, Chief Warrant Officer George T. Johnson piloted an unarmed UH-1B helicopter into heavy fire, rescuing the crew of a downed aircraft. His “unusual alertness, calmness and flying skill enabled the recovery of the downed crew in minimum time thus eliminating the possibility of capture,” according to his Distinguished Flying Cross award. His “courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army.”
That heroic day served as but one highlight in an incredible life of service that ended Aug. 3.
Johnson founded the U.S. Army Black Aviators Association and, with U.L. “Rip” Gooch, the Jayhawk Chapter of Negro Airmen International. NASA invited him to the launch of America’s first black astronaut, Guion Bluford, in 1983.
Johnson presided as regional vice president of the National Business League, establishing its local chapter. Johnson’s grandfather, John Henry Van Leu, was once one of Wichita’s largest property owners, black or white. Van Leu owned much of the property where the Sedgwick County Courthouse stands today.
Johnson’s resolve saved lives that day in Vietnam, but in his business and civic work since, he touched many more.
Kansas African American Museum
The Special Olympics Kansas Charles E. Watson State Softball and Golf Tournament was completed Aug. 2-4 in Wichita. Although the weather (rain) provided some challenges during the event, volunteers did an outstanding job of creating an enjoyable and worthwhile experience for the athletes.
This is the fifth year the tournament has been held in Wichita. High Touch Technologies was the presenting sponsor and worked on planning for several months. The efforts and passion displayed by its employees contribute immensely to the success of the tournament. Jennifer Hughes served as games chairwoman for High Touch and did an outstanding job with logistics.
I want to recognize the Two Rivers Youth Club, which provided a fantastic facility for the athletes, coaches and spectators. Thanks also to other sponsors, volunteers and the city of Wichita for their commitment and efforts for the 39th tournament.
President and CEO
Special Olympics Kansas