By Scott Edger
Little Apple Post
Manhattan residents living near Anthony Middle School are protesting plans by Kansas Gas Service to cut down and clear an area of trees for gas line work on Gary Avenue south of the school.
More than 50 people from the neighborhood showed up at the Anthony Rec Center this week for a second community discussion regarding the project. Kansas Gas sent the project’s manager James Parks and Lindsay Freeman, regional manager of community relations, to clarify residents’ concerns and help them understand the scope of the utility company’s plans.
The existing pipeline section was installed along an ephemeral drainage creek in the early 1980s. Erosion of the creek bed and banks has exposed parts of the 16-inch transmission line at the end of the tree line. Kansas Gas says it must upgrade and lower the pipe to ensure the safety and reliability of the system. The project requires the removal of trees and vegetation for equipment and work space on either side of the pipeline.
Parks said that Kansas Gas executives took residents’ comments from the first meeting very seriously, pointing out that the utility company greatly amended the original plan to now cut a much shorter length of trees on the east end of the stand - about 200 feet behind three houses.
Concerned locals are pushing back against the project. Originally, Kansas Gas planned to cut a swath through the entire length of trees behind about a dozen homes.
Residents voiced concerns that the tree removal would adversely affect the local ecosystem, bemoaning the loss of habitat for various frog and bird species as well as the negative social impact for people who enjoy the location as an urban riparian forest.
Among residents, a loose consensus settled on demanding the entire existing pipeline be abandoned and a replacement line be installed just beyond the tree stand – in an area that is currently outside Kansas Gas’ easement and property of USD 383.
A few residents claimed to have spoken with and received assurances from at least one USD 383 administrator that the school district would agree to the expansion of Kansas Gas’ easement in order to save the tree stand.
Parks told residents that rerouting the entire line north several dozen yards is a far more daunting task than it sounds.
"This is a major transmission line," he said. "It provides gas from this point east, all the way to Silver Lake."
Parks readily acknowledged the physical viability of that idea, but also acknowledged the exponential increase in cost versus the current plan. He told the crowd that construction cost for 16-inch pipelines through barren, unpopulated locations is an average of $1 million per mile. Ultimately those costs are typically passed on to Kansas Gas customers.
Parks also noted that the work will occur on the interior of the thick stand, leaving several rows of trees and the canopy on both sides of the dig, so trees and vegetation directly adjacent to the trail and behind Gary Avenue houses would remain in place.
Several residents suggested Kansas Gas should remediate the cutting by employing a landscape architect to plant new vegetation or constructing a small park on the cleared areas. This was essentially dismissed out of hand as it would clearly nullify the concept and purpose of a utility easement.
Parks assured residents that he would convey their message KGS executives.
"I am empathetic to your concerns," he said. "I will present your idea to reroute the pipe to upper management."
Parks also indicated that KGS is on board with the current plan. The work is scheduled to start sometime this month.
"I have contractors standing by," he said.