Westar Energy said Monday it would pay more to compensate homeowners upset about larger electrical poles, or even buy their homes, in northeast Wichita. Courtesy photo
From Westar Energy’s perspective, homeowners with 105-foot metal poles on their property will be compensated. Students and nonprofits operating in the 67214, 67208 and 67219 ZIP codes will benefit from scholarships and a $1 million foundation fund established by the utility.
It seems so neat and tidy.
But what Westar has done in that neighborhood should terrify every Wichita homeowner, from its cynical “divide and conquer” strategies, to its destruction of home values and the obliteration of people’s hard-earned generational wealth. Few people understand the scale of this calamity.
Yes, homeowners with poles in their yards will get remuneration from Westar, but what if your house is next door? Or across the street? Or two doors down?
You get nothing.
Does Westar really believe homes only near these poles have viable market value? Meanwhile, the homeowners had to pay full tax value on these now underwater properties.
What’s worse was Westar’s strategy of empaneling a board of hand-picked community leaders not directly affected by the pole placements.
No one directly impacted was allowed to serve on that panel — made up primarily of nonprofit and community organization leaders — which conveniently suggested Westar establish a fund for nonprofit and community organizations.
How does community programming solve for the lost property value individual homeowners suffered? That’s like the reckless driver offering cash to car accident witnesses rather than to the injured parties.
Or cynically, it’s like the reckless driver encouraging witnesses to forget what they saw when it’s time to tell the jury who actually caused the accident. Westar should have made panel participants opt out of any future Westar donations to ensure their participation wasn’t simply a quid pro quo.
This skillful but slick public relations maneuver took the focus off Westar, which seems intent on doing this again.
Earlier this year, I introduced a bill requiring utility companies to traverse a permit process governed by the Kansas Corporation Commission before placing transmission line poles or transformers. House Republican leadership and Westar lobbyists blocked it.
So, Westar really isn’t sorry.
This threatens core American values. Property rights are this country’s foundation. What will it mean going forward that some huge corporation could destroy your property values, refuse you compensation and then co-opt leaders they appointed to smother your protest?
Most of us build generational wealth through home ownership. Black households have 5% of the wealth of white households. Westar has destroyed wealth many of these homeowners spent decades building.
Had this happened in Tallgrass or College Hill, Wichita would be aflame with outrage.
When Tallgrass residents complained in the 1990s about one, blue-roofed water station nearby, the City Council acted.
But many of these homeowners are poor and elderly, so no one seems to care.
One 70-year-old woman had just remodeled her home. She’ll soon be abandoning the home she so proudly owned for 50 years to live in a senior center.
It’s patently unfair and positively frightening.
Even more so when ask yourself, with fear rising: Is my neighborhood next?