Lenexa City Council candidates on the issues: Flooding, extreme heat and climate change

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Lenexa City Council address. Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to patrons of the district.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Lenexa take to prepare 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?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on this issue:

Ward 3

Melanie Arroyo

When my opponent attacked me at the SM Post forum because of my relatively young age (I am 29), he tried to paint a fresh perspective as a negative. But one advantage of being relatively young is that I take a longer view on many issues, and there are few issues where that is more relevant than climate change.

There are a wide variety of specific steps we can take as a city with requirements around new development, as well as retrofitting older areas to be more resilient to climate change. This is an area where many Republican elected officials, like Councilman Hunt, are especially disconnected from Republican voters, who increasingly see climate change as an important, even an existential, issue. I share the concerns of those voters.

Lenexa must lead, and succeed, on climate because the consequences of failure are so exceedingly dire. This means everything from more permeable pavements and rain barrels to reduce flooding, to planting trees to reduce the effect of urban heat islands, to pursuing cycling, walking and transit as viable options for transportation. These measures don’t have to be expensive, and can improve Lenexans’ lives in many other ways as well.

Corey Hunt (incumbent)

I believe in climate change. Lenexa absolutely has a role in mitigating potential hazards presented by flooding and extreme weather. Lenexa has been leading in this area for years. Long ago Lenexa committed to an aggressive storm-water management program which includes set-backs to flood plains and elements of drainage systems and Best Maintenance Practices (BMPs). A BMP is essentially an area strategically designated, located and maintained with native grasses and plants. A small example of this may be native grasses planted in the median on 87th Street, while Lake Lenexa could be considered an example of a large BMP. In fact, Lenexa was recognized nationally this year for one of the most innovative storm-water projects in the country, Black-Hoof park (Lake Lenexa)!

Building climate resilience – Lenexa’s Rain to Recreation initiative reclaims flood-plain properties within city limits allowing native vegetation to grow absorbing and cleaning storm-water before draining into our rivers. During my time on Council Lenexa has increased BMPs from about 50 city-wide to more than 500 in-place now. Our Municipal Services Department captures storm-water to grow native plants in an on-site green-house for sustainable green solutions to flooding issues. In 2020 Lenexa adopted the Climate Action KC Playbook. A menu of ideas and methods cities can use to mitigate impacts to climate. Lenexa employs many of these strategies such as investing in green, regenerative buildings like Lenexa City Center, we are aggressively replacing streetlight lamps with light emitting diodes (LED) and making way for distributed renewable energy by allowing solar friendly codes and permitting practices and many other practices making Lenexa climate resilient.

As a matter of public safety, Lenexa has done such a great job at managing storm-water for flash-flooding that we have eliminated the need for Water-Rescue in the city. Think about that for a second, our streets, parks and open spaces are safe because of the leadership in place and the foresight the city has demonstrated in protecting residents as our climate changes. Still there are many actions the city is taking to educate staff and residents alike in on-ways to support climate resilience for example, Parks & Rec puts on a class for residents who would like to use a rain barrel for catching rain-water for redistribution. The class includes the rain barrel and Lenexa reimburses residents for doing this! Watch for classes published in Town Talk.

Ward 4

Scott Callaway

Managing flood risks, extreme heat and drought events definitely fall under the umbrella of Climate change. My recommendation towards mitigating these events would stem from a desire to start seeing more green infrastructure come in to play where it’s feasible. In areas of the city impacted by flooding one approach could be to add permeable pavements, water gardens and ensuring our stormwater and sewer drains are kept clean and open so that the existing infrastructure operates to its maximum efficiency.

In areas where it’s possible I would like to see stormwater stored, and look into designs that would allow city engineers to hold or slow down water during flood events. This water could be used to help keep our city green during drought events. Further, I would like to ensure all of our City buildings are Green certified, that we’re doing our best to keep operational costs down by adjusting thermostats seasonally and prudently, and continue to look for ways to operate using clean energy which is good for both local taxpayers and the environment.

Craig Denny

Rain to Recreation, an outgrowth of Lenexa’s Vision 2020, is a nationally recognized approach to storm water management that has guided development in Lenexa for 20 years. City staff and volunteers (I was one) helped explain the need and value of this program at “Waterfest” events and our community supported its funding. This program reduces storm-related flooding, while protecting water quality and natural habitat and providing educational and recreational opportunities. Well before “climate change” was a common part of our vernacular, Lenexa was proactive in acquiring large areas of “green space” ahead of advancing development. Examples include Black Hoof Park, Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park, Electric Park and others. We continue to receive Tree City USA designation, which began under former Mayor Rich Becker. Trees provide shade that helps reduce surface temperatures. Trees can capture and store atmospheric carbon. Our street tree replacement program, which is administered by our Parks and Recreation Department (I have served on the P&R Advisory Board for over 25 years), partially reimburses Lenexa homeowners for costs incurred to replace dead street trees.

While no single entity alone can affect climate, Lenexa collaborates with regional public and private partners through leadership and participation with Climate Action KC. Their Climate Action Plan presents mitigation and adaption strategies, several of which align with Lenexa Vision 2040. Prior to accepting the Climate Action Plan, Lenexa conducted a thorough review of the plan in direct comparison to current city policies and found that many items in the plan were already being done in Lenexa. Lenexa should continue to proactively collaborate on strategies that make sense to Lenexa and the region.

On Thursday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to the following question:

The City Center development has been widely hailed as a success and one that couldn’t have materialized without the foresight and commitment of the city’s governing body over the course of two decades. Is there a similar long-term initiative that you would like to see the city start working on today? Why or why not?