Despite objections, Shawnee approves $2 million reimbursement to KCP&L for buried power lines along Nieman Road

The city of Shawnee has agreed to reimburse Kansas City Power & Light Co. for the nearly $2 million estimated cost to bury overhead power lines for the Nieman Road improvement project from Shawnee Mission Parkway to 55th Street, despite contending that KCP&L is actually responsible for the costs.

The council unanimously approved a reimbursement agreement with KCP&L at it Monday meeting.

According to the written reimbursement agreement between the city and KCP&L, contained in a Monday memo from Senior Project Engineer Paul Lindstrom to Interim City Manager Vicki Charlesworth, the city and KCP&L entered into the agreement “to permit timely construction” of the public improvements requiring relocation of the power lines.

The agreement states, however, that the city “objects to the payment of the expenses identified herein.” The city contends that KCP&L is responsible for the cost of burying the power lines; KCP&L contends that the city is responsible for the costs, “pursuant to the Company’s approved tariffs (by the Kansas Corporation Commission),” because burying the lines “is not reasonable nor required to accommodate the public improvement project of the City.”

The agreement further states that the city reserves the right to seek reimbursement from KCP&L for all costs the city pays the company for burying the lines. Shawnee City Attorney Ellis Rainey said that this stipulation is common in such agreements between cities and public utilities and constitutes standard legal procedure.

The overhead power lines in question are located in the public right-of-way, and typically in that situation, relocation of the lines for a public-improvement project is at the utility’s expense, Rainey said. The KCC tariff authorizes a utility to pass on the cost to residents, though, “and that’s why the city agreed to pay.”

KCP&L also reserves the right “to contest whether the relocation of the infrastructure to an underground location is necessary and reasonable, the application of the Company’s tariffs to this situation, and the party responsible for the payment of the cost,” according to the agreement.

“I guess what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Rainey said.

The agreement stipulates that KCP&L will transfer electrical services to residences but that the city will be required to hire an electrician to connect all commercial businesses. The city is completing easement acquisitions and is ready for KCP&L to start the work. Construction is expected to take about three months, and completion of the work is expected by the end of this year.

The work does not qualify for reimbursement through the County Assistance Road System (CARS) program. Johnson County’s Board of County Commissioners created the program in 1983 to help build and maintain the county’s major roads connecting cities, according to the county’s website. CARS provides for the county to pay 50 percent of a project’s construction and construction inspection costs, and cities are responsible for design, right-of-way and utility relocation costs.

The council approved increasing the Nieman Road project budget at its April 24, 2017, meeting to pay for burying overhead utilities throughout the corridor. The project’s total budget is nearly $8.7 million.

The Nieman Road project is part of the city’s capital improvement program for construction in 2018 and is among the Nieman Now! projects. The Nieman Road project also includes:

  • Signal modifications at the intersection at Johnson Drive and Nieman
  • Replacement of the traffic signal at 55th and Nieman
  • Narrowing of Nieman to three lanes
  • Adding streetscape features including sidewalks, a multimodal trail, seating, a pavilion/common area at Roger Road and Nieman, bus shelters, trash receptacles and bicycle parking