Web  KCTribune 
KC News Features / Cleon Rickel
Published 03/04/2010 - 10:52 p.m. CDT

U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore announced that this is his last term.

By Cleon Rickel

U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, who announced that this is his last term, hinted to Kansas Democrats at their annual Washington Day celebration in Topeka that his wife Stephene may file for his office.

He made a point of looking at his wife and then telling Democrats “to stay tuned.”

Moore’s hint brightened what has been a rather grim year for Kansans Democrats in which they had difficulty finding viable candidates, and gives them a possible candidate for with as much name recognition as Moore does in his Kansas City-metro Congressional district.

Published 03/04/2010 - 7:56 p.m. CDT

Cleon Rickel

Gardner voters have recalled two city council members who opposed Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s plan to build an intermodal center and logistics park on the city’s outskirts.

Gardner Recall Committee had forced Tuesday’s recall election by filing a petition claiming council members Mary Peters and John Shepherd, and a third council member, had violated the Kansas Open Meetings law, which they had denied.

The recall committee said that the council members had met together in violation of state law prior to sending separate letters to Mayor David Drovetta urging changes to a city charter ordinance establishing the powers of the mayor and city council.

Published 02/19/2010 - 1:55 a.m. CDT

By Cleon Rickel

On a split vote, the high court decided Friday it wouldn’t reopen the landmark court case Ryan Montoy, et al., v. State of Kansas, et al., which forced legislators to sharply increase the amount of funding for public education.

The legislature had made “substantial compliance with our prior remedial orders,” and there were other factors arguing against reopening it, the justices said.

The legal procedure requested by Schools for Fair Funding, a group of 71 Kansas school districts, was similar to filing a new case, they argued in their opinion. The schools would be better off opening a new case, said the judges.

Attorneys for the group of school districts said they intend to do just that.

Published 02/19/2010 - 1:26 a.m. CDT

By Cleon Rickel

The Kansas Department of Transportation had requested a $50 million TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant on behalf of the developers to jump-start the proposal and allow construction to begin on the $700 million project.

However, an application sought by Mid America Regional Council for U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s so-called “Green Impact Zone” in Kansas City and other transit projects received $50 million. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Kansas City to announce the awards.

“This was one of the most competitive grants in the entire recovery package,” David Warm, MARC’s executive director, said. “We are very happy to be one of the 51 funded out of the more than 1,400 submitted.

“This will allow us to make a tangible investment in a regional transit strategy. And some $20 million of this money will be spent in the Kansas side of the region, making this a truly regional project.”

Published 02/11/2010 - 9:02 p.m. CDT

By Cleon Rickel

Will the Kansas Supreme Court reopen what has been can of worms for the Kansas Legislature? The answer will be revealed 9:30 Friday morning.

Through its spokesman, the high court said Thursday afternoon that the justices will rule on a motion by a group made up of nearly 80 Kansas school districts to reopen the landmark court case Ryan Montoy, et al., v. State of Kansas, et al.

Montoy was filed in 1999 and after seven years of court rulings and legislative bickering, the supreme court ruled that the constitution requires legislators to properly fund public education and that the way the state funded public education was unconstitutional and ordered the Legislature either to fix the problems or face the specter of all public schools being closed.

Under the lash of the court ruling, legislators crafted a three-year program that increased the amount of aid it gave to school districts by nearly $1 billion but began dipping heavily into state reserves to bankroll it.

Published 01/29/2010 - 12:14 a.m. CDT

Intermodal shipping containers on a railway flat car. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

by Cleon Rickel

A Texas unit of Allen Group, one of the key partners in a proposed intermodal center between Gardner and Edgerton in southwestern Johnson County, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in connection with their Dallas Logistics intermodal center.

The company said the bankruptcy won’t affect its plans for Johnson County.

In a written statement Allen Group said the filing will allow it to “extend debt maturities, improve their capital structure and further strengthen the Dallas Logistic Hub’s competitive position. None of The Allen Group (TAG) organizations or their other entities in Kansas or California were included in the filings."

Court documents said the Texas intermodal has about $170 million in debt backed by collateral, and another $8 million in debt without collateral, and revenues of about $5 million a year.
The logistics park has about 6,000 acres.

The documents also said that the company has been talking to Dallas city officials and a Chinese company about a sale of more than 1,000 acres in the logistics park to the company, identified as China Supply and Logistics.

Published 01/15/2010 - 6:25 a.m. CDT

By Cleon Rickel

 A federal lawsuit filed against BNSF Railway and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hoping to force a more detailed study of the impact on the air and water by the railroad planned intermodal center in southwestern Johnson County.

The proposed site lies near the city of Gardner and along BNSF‘s Transcon mainline and Interstate 35, a major national north-south highway. The BNSF is seeking to build a $700 million, high-tech, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly 1,200-acre intermodal site between Gardner and Edgerton. The site would include an intermodal center where shipping containers would be unloaded from trains and a logistics park made up of warehouses, distribution centers and shipping points.

The lawsuit is a response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recent action in issuing a special water permit that allows the railroad to re-route a stream at the site. The permit recently issued by the Corps will allow the railroad to erase a stream in the middle of the site, said Mark Dugan, Overland Park attorney representing one of the plaintiffs.

Published 01/08/2010 - 2:19 a.m. CDT

Smoky Hills Wind Farm

By Cleon Rickel

Will homegrown electricity be as good as homegrown tomatoes in Kansas City? A proposed commercial wind farm in a small rural Kansas county 70 miles southwest of Kansas City is riding on the answer.

Tradewinds Energy, a Lenexa-based wind power company, has put on the table a bid to Kansas City Power & Light to provide electricity generated from 50 to 70 wind generators in southern Anderson County, Kansas.

The proposal is connected to the utilities’ request a little more than a month ago for another 300 megawatts of electrical power generated by wind within two years.

Although most wind farms in Kansas have been located in the windier parts of central and western Kansas, experts say the east central Kansas location has a couple advantages -- it’s close to a major market for electricity and it’s next to an established transmission network.

Published 12/31/2009 - 9:27 p.m. CDT

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe's Argentine Yard in Kansas City, Kansas may soon have a counterpart in Gardner Kansas. (Photo: Michael McClure)

By Cleon Rickel

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently issued a special water permit that would allow the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway to proceed with its plan to build its Intermodal Center near the city of Gardner in southwestern Johnson County.

BNSF had sought the Section 404 permit from the Corps so it could relocate a streambed at the site.

“The Corps determined that the project is in the public interest, is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative, and will not significantly impact the human environment,” said a ruling issued by the Kansas City regional office.

Published 02/19/2010 - 1:36 a.m. CDT

Cleon Rickel

When the devastating monster quake hit Haiti Jan. 12th, the first thought that Mike Wawrzewski, Wichita, Kan., physician’s assistant and chief executive officer of the medical missionary group Hospitals for Hope, was how the group could respond.

“Do we go? Do we send medical help?“ he recalled the conversation.

But the answer quickly came to mind. Shipping containers.

Those 40-foot by 8 by 9 foot trailer boxes put on rail cars or truck wheels and pulled by semi-trucks. Those rusting eyesores hidden in trashy perches behind large retail stores or industrial sites would now become useful. Those ubiquitous metal boxes have become so much a part of the American landscape some people are putting them in their backyards as a cheap form of storage -- much to the horror of municipal and county zoning officials.

Published 02/11/2010 - 9:04 p.m. CDT

By Cleon Rickel

An official said the University of Kansas Medical Center is reorganizing its animal care and research program to improve oversight and to ensure it’s meeting federal research rules.

U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors said they found about 160 violations of federal animal protection laws at the medical center between August 2008 and June 2009 experiments at university laboratories.

Although several items identified by USDA are under appeal, it was apparent that corrective actions were necessary, said executive vice-chancellor Dr. Barbara Atkinson.

“Upholding the highest regulatory and ethical research standards is something we take very seriously at the medical center,” Atkinson said. “With the changes being implemented, we are raising the bar for our animal care and related research environments, which are essential to developing cures and therapies for both human and animal diseases.”

Justin Goodman, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has complained about the research at KUMC, said he’s skeptical.

Published 01/29/2010 - 12:22 a.m. CDT

by Cleon Rickel

Westar Energy announced a proposed settlement of their lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice over Clear Air Act Violations around its giant Jeffrey Energy Center, west of Topeka, Kan.

The settlement was filed Monday with the Eastern District of Kansas Federal Court, seeking the court’s approval, the company said in a written statement.

“In the past few years, Westar has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the environmental performance of our coal plants,” said Bill Moore, Westar’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Long before the Department of Justice filed this lawsuit, we were already taking actions to keep our air clean.”

Published 01/28/2010 - 11:04 p.m. CDT

Joined by famed rail enthusiast Vice President Biden, the President releases his vision for high speed rail as funded by the Recovery Act and the coming budget. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is in the background. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

by Cleon Rickel

For Missouri, the Obama Administration’s high-speed rail awards announced Thursday afternoon were “the best possible scenario.” For Kansas, it was being kissed by your sister.

Brian Weiler, multi-modal director for the Missouri Department of Transportation, isn’t buying any champagne. “But I’m going to crack a beer when I get home,” he said.

MoDOT will receive $31 million – slightly more than it requested – in economic stimulus funds earmarked for high-speed passenger rail to make improvements to railroad tracks between Kansas City and St. Louis. The tracks, owned by Union Pacific, are used by Amtrak and Missouri for passenger trains that cross the state.

Published 01/08/2010 - 3:47 a.m. CDT

by Cleon Rickel

An environmental coalition filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against a plan by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) and a San Diego-based developer to build a new intermodal center in southwestern Johnson County.

The suit was filed in Federal Court at Kansas City, Kan., and aims to force the railroad and federal regulators to conduct more extensive studies on the environmental impact of the intermodal center.

The proposed site lies near the city of Gardner and along BNSF‘s Transcon mainline and Interstate 35, a major national north-south highway. The proposal calls for the development of a more than $700 million, 1,200-acre intermodal center and a logistics park made up of warehouses, distribution centers and shipping points.

Published 12/31/2009 - 9:31 p.m. CDT

State Senator Laura Kelly had been regarded as the Democrat candidate with the most potential to unseat Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins

By Cleon Rickel

What if they had a party and no one showed up? Kansas Democrats must be asking themselves that question as they enter this election year.

The latest no-show: Topeka-area State Senator Laura Kelly. She had been regarded as the Democrat candidate with the most potential to unseat Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-2nd District) but announced Thursday that she’s dropping out of the Congressional race. The second congressional district covers all of Eastern Kansas except the Kansas City Metropolitan area.

In her announcement, Kelly said she was “forced to make a decision between honoring the pledge I made to the people in my senate district and my firm conviction that the people of the 2nd Congressional District deserve a truly independent voice in Congress.

Published 12/17/2009 - 10:51 p.m. CDT

By Cleon Rickel

When Mayor Mark Funkhouser, the Kansas Chiefs’ Clark Hunt and the Wizards soccer group joined earlier this month to make a bid as a FIFA World Cup soccer venue, they had the goal of kicking the city into the heights of international soccer.

They’d be right, say fans who follow what everyone else outside of the U.S. calls football.

“It would be great,” said Bob Johnson, an Ottawa, Kan., soccer fan who can nearly name the records of all the fabled soccer teams in the high-octane European football leagues. “It would help the status of soccer in the U.S.

“… It’s going to be major.”

Although most Americans pay little to the sport, in most parts of the globe, being a World Cup city equals being a world-class city, he said.

“The World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world,” Johnson said. “American don’t realize it but the World Cup is three to four times bigger than the Olympics.”