Tree stumps, 100-foot power poles: These Joco neighbors lament their view and future


Reality Check is a Star series holding those with power to account and shining a light on their decisions. Have a suggestion for a future story? Email our journalists at RealityCheck@kcstar.com.

One month ago when Diane and Michael Olson stood on the front porch of their De Soto home — a resplendent, modern farmhouse, painted butter yellow, and custom built for them at 3,800 square feet — they gazed across their rural Johnson County acreage at a view they loved.

Flower beds rolled into grass that descended into a grove of nearly two dozen trees lorded over by a towering 80-year-old oak.

“It was the centerpiece of our yard,” Diane Olson said. “We had a gorgeous yard. I mean, really.”

Their view now horrifies them.

Twenty-one trees, including an 80-year-old oak, were cut to stumps to install a 100-foot tall power pole in the front yard of Michael and Diane Olson of De Soto. “It was the centerpiece of our yard. We had a gorgeous yard. I mean, really,” she said.

Twenty-one trees, including an 80-year-old oak, were cut to stumps to install a 100-foot tall power pole in the front yard of Michael and Diane Olson of De Soto. “It was the centerpiece of our yard. We had a gorgeous yard. I mean, really,” she said.

Their beloved trees have been turned to chainsawed stumps. Instead of the oak tree, they look out at a steel Evergy Inc. electric transmission pole reaching 100 feet into the air to carry lines bearing 115,000 volts of electricity.

Beyond that tower, 43 more now stretch as far as the eye can see east and west along 95th Street — erected to bring power to the gargantuan $4 billion Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant under construction south of Kansas Highway 10, and set to open in 2025.

It’s not as if the Olsons, along with other 95th Street neighbors, did not know that some type of power lines would be going up. They of course were aware that the new Panasonic plant was going in. But residents said they had no idea that the location of the plant about a mile away would ruin their properties.

A worker for the Capital Electric Construction Co. installs transmission lines on a 100-foot-tall steel pole along 95th Street near Lexington Avenue in De Soto.

A worker for the Capital Electric Construction Co. installs transmission lines on a 100-foot-tall steel pole along 95th Street near Lexington Avenue in De Soto.

How Evergy made its decisions

Evergy insists that it began meeting with landowners as early as January 2023 to discuss the acquisition of easements and lay out utility pole heights. Company representatives hosted a public information session on Sept. 21 at De Soto’s City Hall, with letters inviting property owners. The company assigned “project representatives” to landowners to answer their questions.

It negotiated sale prices for land. Where there was disagreement, the utility used its power of eminent domain to procure the first 100 feet of landowners’ frontage property and offered compensation. One landowner said she received more than $200,000.

“The De Soto community is experiencing a lot of growth and change,” Kaley Bohlen, an Evergy communications manager, responded to The Star in an email. “Our work to upgrade power lines is among many infrastructure projects active in the community. As we work to ensure the electric grid meets the modern needs of our communities, it frequently means larger or additional infrastructure. We work with landowners to make modifications where possible and compensate property owners.”

Asked why Evergy did not choose to bury the power lines, Bohlen said the cost is typically eight to 10 times greater and the company is trying to keep utility rates lower. Other underground utilities also play a role.

“In many places, there is not enough space to rebuild and put the transmission line underground,” she said, “because other utilities — like natural gas lines, sewer and water lines — are already underground in this area.”

She also said that placing the power lines further north along K-10 was not feasible. “Due to transportation challenges in the area,” Bohlen said, “KDOT (Kansas Department of Transportation) is evaluating widening K-10, which would limit our ability to build the line in that area.”

Stumps, soon to be cleared, are what remain of the grove of trees in the front yard of Michael and Diane Olson on 95th Street in De Soto. The trees were replaced by a 100-foot tall steel power pole to feed electricity to the new Panasonic battery plant set to open in 2025.

Stumps, soon to be cleared, are what remain of the grove of trees in the front yard of Michael and Diane Olson on 95th Street in De Soto. The trees were replaced by a 100-foot tall steel power pole to feed electricity to the new Panasonic battery plant set to open in 2025.

Residents said they have long been reconciled to the fact that there was likely nothing they could have done to block the transmission poles.

They nonetheless are angry and feel bamboozled. Never was it made clear, the Olsons and neighbors insist, that the height and width of the poles would be so massive. Homeowners instead said they were told the new poles would replace their existing wooden utility poles, which stand some 30% shorter.

“My husband asked for a description of the poles. They never gave us a picture,” Olson said. “I’ll tell you one thing. Had we known beforehand, we would have sold our house.”

Michael Olson guesses that their home, built 24 years ago on 12 acres and appraised by Johnson County at $662,000, may have lost as much as a third of its value because of the towers. They raised their five children to adulthood there.

Some of the remains of 21 trees, including an 80-year-old oak, are stacked on the 95th Street property of Michael and Diane Olson in De Soto. The trees were felled to make room for a 100-foot-tall power pole set at the front of their property to feed electricity to the new Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant nearby.

Some of the remains of 21 trees, including an 80-year-old oak, are stacked on the 95th Street property of Michael and Diane Olson in De Soto. The trees were felled to make room for a 100-foot-tall power pole set at the front of their property to feed electricity to the new Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant nearby.

“I’ve sent my daughter pictures. I’ve sent all of them pictures,” Diane Olson said. “They can’t believe it. Nobody can believe it.”

She said watching a crew kill her 80-year-old oak was so painful that even Evergy workers were apologetic.

“They came up — the Evergy people — they came up and said, ‘I’m so sorry we have to do this. We don’t want to do this, either.’ I mean it was so difficult,” Olson said.

Scores of trees were felled on properties along 95th Street in De Soto, such as Janssen Stables, left, and on the property of Kameron and Darcey Klein, right, to make way for a string of 100-foot power poles.

Scores of trees were felled on properties along 95th Street in De Soto, such as Janssen Stables, left, and on the property of Kameron and Darcey Klein, right, to make way for a string of 100-foot power poles.

Rural neighbors: ‘This has been horrendous’

Pam Darling, a neighbor who has lived on 95th Street for 27 years, summed up her feelings with one repeated word.

“Horrible,” Darling said. “Horrible.”

Dozens of her trees, which once secluded her home from the road, were shaved to the ground. She is not upset with Evergy, which, she said, has been responsive and dealt with her respectfully in doing what’s required to bring energy to the new battery plant. But she does not welcome the steel pole that now looms over her house and five acres like a steel monolith.

“We didn’t expect these,” Darling said. “It’s not a happy situation.”

Stable owner Lesley Janssen of Janssen Stables shows off a new colt born in her De Soto barn that morning. Janssen now feels the business she and her late husband began 25 years ago may soon be destroyed by changes from the Panasonic battery plant under construction nearby. “This has been almost as bad as losing my husband,” Janssen said.

Stable owner Lesley Janssen of Janssen Stables shows off a new colt born in her De Soto barn that morning. Janssen now feels the business she and her late husband began 25 years ago may soon be destroyed by changes from the Panasonic battery plant under construction nearby. “This has been almost as bad as losing my husband,” Janssen said.

Further west down 95th Street, horse trainer and riding coach Lesley Janssen runs Janssen Stables, the business she and her husband, Scott, began 25 years ago. In 2009, he died of melanoma. Attached to the front of the arena is the kitchen, living room and bedrooms that Janssen and her 9-year-old daughter, Grace, call home.

On a recent visit, a colt had just been born to a mare. Some 20 other quarter horses, along with a donkey and pig, roamed the pens behind the barn and arena.

“I mean, I live here. I work here. My late husband almost died here,” Janssen said. “We did this together. And we just added on and added on. I mean, it was the country and we love it. I get the most gorgeous sunsets.”

To Janssen, the giant utility poles are not only a blight, but also the harbinger of a future she does not welcome, when the plant begins operation and gradually, as she and others suspect, the rural plots surrounding them are sold off for denser commercial and residential development. The land is already zoned for both.

“This has been horrendous. This has been almost as bad as losing my husband,” she said.

Janssen and others gradually see their rural landscape being turned into an extension of suburban Johnson County. At least four “For Sale” signs have already been posted on multi-acre properties around her.

“If I have to move, I don’t know where I could move and reestablish 25-plus years,” she said. “I want to build forward. And now I’m having to watch them destroy everything I’ve done.”

New power poles set to feed electricity to the $4 billion Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto line 95th Street.

New power poles set to feed electricity to the $4 billion Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto line 95th Street.

Who’s to blame?

Janssen, for one, places great onus on the city. She blames De Soto city leaders for not being more forthcoming about the size of the utility poles and other changes. When it comes to the poles, De Soto City Administrator Mike Brungardt said the city had no real say.

“It’s important to clarify that some utility companies, such as Evergy, have independent statutory authority when working on private property and do not need — nor seek — local oversight,” Brungardt emailed to The Star. “In this instance, the work along 95th Street is being conducted outside of the city right-of-way, on private property, meaning that Evergy communicates and negotiates easements directly with property owners.

“As a result, the City of De Soto … does not have a primary role in the planning, communication, or implementation process for these types of projects.”

Homeowners, now in the shadow of the utility poles, said they’re unsure what the future holds. Most, like neighbor David McCord, 71, said that even if they wanted to sell their homes, it would be next to impossible to now find a residential buyer willing to pay top dollar to live next to a towering steel pole coursing with 115,000 volts of electricity.

“We can’t really afford to sell it residential,” said McCord, who, with his wife, Teresa, has lived in their home for 39 years. Their three boys grew up there. “Nobody in their right mind is going to want to buy this for residential.”

“It’s a mixed bag of blessing and heartache,” said Darcey Klein, who with her husband, Kameron Klein, runs their business out of their home on 10 acres along 95th Street in De Soto.

“It’s a mixed bag of blessing and heartache,” said Darcey Klein, who with her husband, Kameron Klein, runs their business out of their home on 10 acres along 95th Street in De Soto.

He and others, like neighbors Kameron and Darcey Klein, who moved into their home 26 years ago on 10 acres, are now waiting. The Panasonic plant and giant poles mean development is on its way, they say. Their best move now, they said, is to wait to sell for commercial.

“We all purchased out here to be away from everything, feeling like we got a good spot to stay.”

She called the development around them “a mixed bag of blessing and heartache.”

Growth for De Soto and jobs with the Panasonic plant. “But it also means that we’ll be selling here along our strip. … We have to move our babies and our memories. … None of us are ready.”

Kameron Klein said of his neighbors, “I don’t think any of us will be here in five years.”

Recently installed 100-foot power poles carry 115,000-volt electrical transmission lines across residential properties on 95th Street in De Soto.

Recently installed 100-foot power poles carry 115,000-volt electrical transmission lines across residential properties on 95th Street in De Soto.



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top