Westar Energy says it will replace some of the large metal transmission poles installed in some Wichita neighborhoods following an outcry from residents and political leaders.
Westar now says it made a mistake when it installed the 105-foot steel poles as part of a transmission line upgrade last year.
"As we work to improve reliability and upgrade and modernize infrastructure in the communities we serve, we often use tall, steel transmission poles like the ones used along Mossman and Green," Westar CEO Terry Bassham said in a statement. "However, in this neighborhood, these larger poles aren’t the best solution."
The company announced Sunday that it’s in the process of designing smaller poles that will replace the ones installed along Mossman and Green streets – some of them in residents' front yards.
City Council member Brandon Johnson says the announcement surprised him.
"It's a $7.7 billion company, and you don't often see companies that big listen to people, especially in lower income neighborhoods," he says. "And this one did."
But he says Westar is only taking care of four blocks out of the roughly 3-mile stretch affected by the poles. He says it's possible the company is only addressing a limited number of poles now because of the substantial investment made in the area by Habitat for Humanity — about $2 million.
"It impacts a lot of those homeowners that just built those houses in the last five years that have anywhere from 15 to 20 years left on the mortgage. Those folks weren't compensated," he says. "Many of them wanted to stay in the neighborhood, didn't really have any issue with the neighborhood aside from those poles.
"I think the case was made there, and unfortunately not as much of a case down 11th Street and down Hydraulic."
Johnson says he's in continuous talks with Westar. No timeline has been set yet but the company says once a design is made, it will "talk with residents and neighborhood leaders about the specific changes, and sometime after that, we will begin construction."
A bill to change the process for electric line transmission changes was introduced in the Legislature this year, but didn’t get out of committee. Rep. Gail Finney of Wichita, who sponsored the bill, said it would prevent a similar situation from happening in the future.