Overland Park Wards 1 and 2 city council candidates on the issues: Climate change

Overland Park Wards 1 and 2 city council candidates weigh in on how the city should address climate change. File photo.

In early June, the Shawnee Mission Post asked readers for input on questions for candidates vying for seats in the upcoming election season. Based on that input, the Post developed a questionnaire for candidates running for Overland Park city council seats.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of these five questions. Read the candidates’ responses to previously published questions about affordable housing and police transparency. Today we’re publishing the candidates responses to item three:

Climate change continues to be top of mind for many of our readers. What steps can Overland Park take to prepare Overland Park neighborhoods for increased flooding, along with extreme heat and drought events? What steps would you like to see the city take to build climate resilience?

Overland Park City Council Ward 1

Michael Czerniewski

As discussed in the forum on Wednesday, there are many things we can do to become a more environmentally friendly city. Increased walkability and bikeability – which is no problem for North Overland Park but a tremendous challenge for South Overland Park – as well as improved public transit, whether it’s in the form of a Metcalf MAX bus route or ultimately a Metcalf streetcar, would greatly help with that. Preserving green space is also something that needs to be taken into consideration.

Logan Heley (incumbent)

As a city with “park” in our name, we need to be leaders in climate action. Sure, our city alone won’t reverse global warming, but we need to do our fair share and be part of the solution rather than adding to the problem.

In my first term I initiated the City sourcing more than half our energy from renewable sources, expanded public transit (Microtransit), and pushed for any development seeking incentives to be held to high climate standards. Our city should prioritize implementation of the Kansas City Regional Climate Action Plan, which proposes achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. I am an engaged member of Climate Action KC and have worked to create an infrastructure advisory board that is focused on finding sustainable solutions for Overland Park and will incorporate climate planning.

Our community must do our share to reverse climate change. We need to set climate goals, develop a plan to implement solutions, and execute projects and programs that will make our community healthier, safer, and more beautiful.

Carol Merritt

This question is thought provoking, to say the least. I always believe it is smart to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
How can our city prepare for any disaster? The leaders of Overland Park need to have emergency plans well thought out and knowledge on how to execute them.
There are many ideas from scientists who wish to save humanity. They must be researched and thought out. Hong Kong has already moved power stations and reservoirs of water underground to save on space. Power lines have been buried underground to protect electrical outages from storms.
I am more positive about the effects of global warming and climate change. There will be fewer deaths from freezing temperatures, lower costs of heating homes, longer growing seasons and more crop yields resulting in more food and less starvation. The North West passage will be available for shipping. Humans are smart and adaptable and have overcome many climate challenges as history reports.
I look to these future challenges with a heart full of hope! We can enjoy a bright future!

Ryan Spencer

I think that there’s several things the city can be doing to prepare for different climate scenarios. I think looking to desert cities can help quite a bit. Public lands focusing on local wildlife and flora require quite a bit less water than traditional turf and I think Overland Park can be doing a better job of encouraging residents to think outside the traditional lawn mindset. Many southwestern cities also make better use of their gray water supply for non-potable purposes, thereby saving a large amount of freshwater for consumption. We could also examine our current sprawl necessity. I was recently told a tax-related story about land in southern OP being used as farm land but the city re-zoned and sold it for business development, which of course sounds great for the city, but was that plot of land doing more harm to the environment before or after development? We have how many square miles of already developed land that could be redeveloped instead of taking natural lands and adding to the problem.

Overland Park City Council Ward 2

Melissa Cheatham

Local governments make important climate action decisions including transportation planning, setting building codes, establishing zoning and planting trees and native plants. The great news about climate action is that many climate solutions provide myriad other benefits too, including improved water quality, air quality, better health outcomes, financial savings, and greater resilience. A focus on climate action would advance the community’s ForwardOP vision to be forward-thinking and innovative.

I would like to see Overland Park commit to the goal of our region’s Climate Action Plan, to reach net zero carbon by 2050, and then come up with a plan that works for Overland Park to achieve that target. We absolutely must meet this goal to protect our children’s futures. Through my volunteer work with Climate Action KC, I was the primary author of the regional Climate Action Playbook, which provides a menu of ideas and examples for local climate action. The city can begin this work by leading by example, striving for net-zero energy city buildings, converting the city’s fleet to electric vehicles where possible, exploring electric landscape equipment, planting native species at city parks, and designing city streets to be safe and enjoyable for pollution-free transportation like walking and biking.

As a member of Overland Park’s Environmental Advisory Council, I have already begun this work. In serving on the task force that recently updated the city’s building code, I successfully reached consensus with builders to make new homes in Overland Park the most energy efficient in the county, which will save homeowners money on their energy bills and reduce pollution. I also pushed to make new buildings ready for solar power and electric vehicles, which resulted in an innovative new incentive program for homes that are ready for these clean energy technologies.

Tony Medina

I fully support the City being more responsive and taking a lead in climate action. The Climate Action Playbook from Climate Action KC and the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) provide a great blueprint for the City to adopt including continuing to plant trees to improve the tree canopy, adding additional electric/hybrid fleet vehicles, and installing solar powered traffic signals.

Roger Tarbutton

Kansas is legendary for extreme weather including flash floods, droughts, blizzards, and tornadoes. Early maps labelled Kansas Territory a desert wasteland. Unfortunately, these events will occasionally occur with or without climate change and OP has a responsibility to prepare for them. OP currently cooperates with County Government and other local municipalities to anticipate and mitigate these events such as through the construction of storm-sewers and operation of emergency management warning systems. If elected, I will encourage the city to explore additional avenues of cooperation with federal, state and local municipal authorities to anticipate and deal with these emergencies. Overland Park should also continue to play a role in addressing environmental issues where practicable such as through recycling programs, energy efficiency studies and similar initiatives. Requiring developers to construct LEED certified buildings sounds good, however, the development contracts I have looked at contain an escape clause allowing developers to avoid the requirement with minimal penalty.

Tomorrow, we will publish the candidates’ responses to question #4:

There have been a number of complaints about the city’s use of the chip seal technique for road repairs in recent months, but less discussion about alternatives and how much they would cost. Do you support the city’s current chip seal program? If not, what should the city be doing instead to repair and maintain its roads? How much would an alternative cost and how would the city pay for it? If you do support chip seal, how do you respond to residents who say it is both dangerous to pedestrians/cyclists and damaging to vehicles?