Council continues push for turnpike access
Monday night, Tonganoxie City Council members gave the go-ahead to further research the County Road 1 project.
With the support of three other council members at the meeting -- Steve Gumm, Jason Ward and Ron Cranor -- Velda Roberts directed City Administrator Mike Yanez and his staff to "go forward to work with the county commissioners and their staff toward obtaining the goals that we've just discussed of putting this process together."
Council member Jim Truesdell was present, but abstained from participating in the discussion, citing conflict of interest. Truesdell is an engineer with HNTB, which has contracted with the county and KTA to do preliminary work on County Road 1. Mayor Dave Taylor was absent.
The "goals," to which Roberts referred to would be the establishment of an interlocal agreement between the city and Leavenworth County.
Previously, the city has discussed the possibility of paying $2.8 million toward improvements of County Road 1, which would be necessary in order for the road to be used as a connecting route to a turnpike interchange. County commissioners selected the proposed route, which would run from U.S. Highway 24-40 just south of Tonganoxie to a turnpike interchange on Interstate 70 -- about three miles south of Tonganoxie. The county also would contribute toward the improvement of County Road 1.
"I don't anticipate nor do I ask the council to make any decision at tonight's meeting," Yanez said. "Although I do ask the council to make some direction to see if we need to keep moving forward to see if we need to deliberate this within our own city ranks, as well as in the county."
Also at the meeting were city staffers, including Cecil Kingsley, the city's engineer.
"My first observation is $2.8 million is a lot of money," said Kingsley, who has been the city's engineer since 1988. "You've got to find a way to budget your dollars and make it make sense for those that you govern. ... What are you going to get for your $2.8 million. Until you write the check you have the opportunity to put some input into it."
That opportunity, Kingsley said, would be an interlocal agreement, which he said would show the city, "what you stand to gain and whether or not you should spend this money."
The agreement, Kingsley said, should cover zoning, debt retirement and infrastructure.
Even if the city doesn't annex the land near the turnpike in the near future, as Tonganoxie spreads to the south, that land eventually could become a part of Tonganoxie, Kingsley said.
And if the infrastructure hasn't been put in place in a wise manner, for instance sewers and zoning regulations, that could become a "huge debt load" to the city, Kingsley said.
Even if the city proceeds to work on an interlocal agreement, Kingsley said there's no guarantee.
"I don't know that any of us can hammer out an agreement with the county. They (the county) may not know if they can hammer out an agreement with us," Kingsley said.
Yanez told the council that anything that happens along the County Road 1 corridor south of Tonganoxie affects the city.
"This presents an opportunity for the city to get out front to seek in an agreement some direct influence on what is going to happen down there," Yanez said.
Yanez said, if the city agrees to put $2.8 million into the road project, there is a concern about "the price to pay to get into the ball game."
"But that's the price we have to pay to get in and see what happens," Yanez added. "It would also be costly not to be involved in the ball game."
Tom Kaleko, financial adviser with Springsted Inc., noted the $2.8 million would be a significant investment for the city.
"The benefits that you're going to accrue from this investment are gong to relate to what kind of development is going to occur along the corridor," Kaleko said.
Yanez noted there are various ways the city could fund the $2.8 million. This could include paying in a lump sum, or making 10 payments. He said, if the city agrees to contribute, the first payment likely would not be due for another 18 to 24 months.
Yanez said it was likely the planning sessions between the county and city would not be held in public sessions.
"You don't want to negotiate an agreement of this nature in a public forum," Yanez said.
This comment brought exasperated sighs from the audience, which consisted of about 25 area residents, many of whom live near the site of the proposed turnpike interchange and have voiced opposition to the interchange, the traffic it would generate and the development likely to occur.
Kingsley explained there is a lot of discussion that needs to take place in preparation of reaching an interlocal agreement. That includes having engineers consider infrastructure standards such as street width and what type of sewers will be put in.
"There's nothing secretive going on behind the scenes here, it's quite boring," Kingsley said to the audience. "... If you want to sit in and watch that work, be prepared to sit a lot of hours."
Council member Ron Cranor said this all began when Paul and Elizabeth McKie, owners of the 2,000-acre Tailgate Ranch which borders the turnpike on County Road 1 said they would not be against being annexed into the city if County Road 1 were selected as the site for an interchange.
"I find them absent ... and it bothers me," Cranor said, shaking his head. "They are the biggest landholders that were pushing this issue and yet we heard nothing from them."
Cranor's comment brought applause from the audience.
That's when the McKie's attorney, Ralph Lewis, seated in the back row of the audience, stood up.
"I don't know where you get that position," Lewis said. "We are rock solid being in this process, we have been all along."
Lewis said the McKie's have already spent "tens of thousands of dollars" researching the project.
"We just don't have any development plan yet," Lewis said. "Everybody thinks we've got some secret things we're pulling out of a pocket. When and if it makes sense we'll talk to you."
Council member Jason Ward agreed.
"I understand what Mr. Lewis is saying," Ward said. "They have just as much homework and just as many things to plan as we do. Just as we need to do our homework and make decisions up what the impact would be to us as a city, Tailgate Ranch needs to do for themselves."
Immediately after the meeting adjourned, Julie Downes, who lives on County Road 1 south of the turnpike and has previously spoken against the interchange, spoke up.
She questioned why Lewis, the McKie's lawyer, was allowed to speak, when no one else was given the opportunity.
"I recognized Mr. Lewis because he was answering a direct statement about Tailgate Ranch," Roberts said.
Dairy farmer Kerry Holton, who lives in the city's future growth area, south of Tonganoxie, asked if other property owners in that area would be allowed to speak in the future.
"There will be public involvement," Roberts said.
To which Holton replied, "Voting, maybe?"
Later, Downes said she thought the city should poll Tonganoxie residents about spending $2.8 million to improve County Road 1.
And, Downes said, if the city and county decide to improve County Road 1 and support the development, there's no guarantee it will be successful.
She noted the former Tanger outlet mall in Lawrence, which within a few years after it was built, closed.
"If Lawrence can't support that, why is this corridor going to," Downes said.
A public meeting to discuss the proposed turnpike interchange will be at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 16, in the commission room of the Leavenworth County Courthouse, 300 Walnut, Leavenworth.
Commissioner Clyde Graeber said the meeting was set up at the suggestion of Michael Johnston, president and CEO of Kansas Turnpike Association.
"According to what Mr. Johnston and I visited about, with the requirements that we build County Road 1 north and south, we need to find out where the financing is going to be coming from," Graeber said Tuesday. "The county itself has only committed somewhere between $6 million to $8 million from the sales tax money for the turnpike. We're going to have to find additional funds, either from Tongie's participation or the federal government."
Graeber said commissioners recently learned that Sen. Pat Roberts had earmarked $1 million for the project.
"But that still has to go through the entire transportation committee," Graeber said.
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