Overland Park City Council wards 1, 2 and 3 candidates on the issues: Flooding and climate change

Overland Park Wards 1, 2 and 3 city council candidates discuss steps they would like to see Overland Park take to prepare neighborhoods for increased flooding, along with extreme heat and drought event. Filed image.

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Overland Park City Council address.

Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the citizens of Overland Park.

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 Overland Park 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 the issue:

Ward 1

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 farmland 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.

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. I have led efforts to expand microtransit, ensure the city is now powered by more than 50% renewable energy, and pushed for developments 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 Group that is focused on finding sustainable solutions for Overland Park and will incorporate climate planning. Improved stormwater facilities, enhanced green infrastructure, and planting/maintaining more trees are some of the possible solutions. Our community must do our share to reverse climate change and prepare for it. We need to set climate goals, develop a plan to implement solutions, and execute projects and programs that will make our community healthier, safer, more resilient, and more beautiful.

Ward 2

Roger Tarbutton

No city can realistically tackle a global issue such as climate change on its own. However, if elected, I will encourage the city to adopt realistic policies to operate more efficiently and protect residents and their property from severe weather events. The city currently partners with Johnson County and other municipal agencies to construct and maintain effective stormwater management and emergency communication systems. During my employment with Johnson County Government, I was personally involved in the establishment and operation of an effective program designed to reduce the number of sanitary sewer and basement backups in residences during storm events. I will continue to promote such cooperative efforts in order to prepare for and mitigate the impact of severe weather events.

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. Many of the solutions that “mitigate” climate change by reducing pollution, also build resilience in the face of coming climate changes. For example, native plants not only sequester carbon pollution in their deep roots, they will also absorb stormwater runoff during extreme rains that will increase due to climate change. Likewise, trees sequester carbon but also provide cooling shade that will be welcome during climate-charged extreme heat events.

As a member of Overland Park’s Environmental Advisory Council, I have already begun the work to make Overland Park more climate conscious. In serving on the task force that 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 built to be ready for these clean energy technologies.

Ward 3

Amanda Vega-Mavec

The effects of climate change are here and we will continue to deal with the impacts, such as flooding. Flooding is a specific concern that has been mentioned by a number of residents when canvassing. I would like to learn more about this specific concern, what is already being done and what more could be done.

I know Overland Park already has programming and partnerships in place to address and research the impacts of climate change. I would support the continuance of these. One such program in place to help manage stormwater, such as the cost-share program to help residents and businesses with native plant gardens, rain gardens, and rain barrels. I have participated in the program and would support increased efforts to educate more residents and businesses about these programs.

I would also look at initiatives that include more research on topics such as emissions and infrastructure for electric vehicles. Also continue to support programs that provide incentives for new development to meet certain requirements that aim to mitigate the effects of climate change and increase environmental sustainability.

Jim Kite (incumbent)

The City of Overland Park has initiated several “green” initiatives in recent years, primarily in areas under the auspices of the committee I chair. The public works team has aggressively upgraded streetlights to LED, added bike lanes to almost 100 miles of thoroughfares and collector streets, and initiated a contract with a local electrical engineering firm to reduce energy consumption at every city facility, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

To specifically address flood events, our team has invested millions in conjunction with the county, to rebuild failing ditch liners and streamways, replaced aging underground storm drains and increased storm water utility funding that helps establish more and better intakes to those systems. There is obviously more to be done, and our team is actively reviewing future needs, including addressing green infrastructure, as part of the Infrastructure Advisory Board, whose creation I spearheaded.

On Friday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to question #5:

What’s the top thing you’d like to be able to say about the city of Overland Park four years from now that you can’t say today? What should the city government be doing to make that a reality?