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Regional Headlines for Thursday, June 21, 2012




Feds Fine Russell Stover for Water Pollution in Iola

The Russell Stover Candies company has agreed to pay a $585,000 civil penalty to settle alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act at its facility in Iola.  That's according to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, which announced the agreement today (THUR). 

The EPA says it performed an audit of the City of Iola’s pretreatment implementation activities in June, 2008.  During the audit, EPA identified numerous program deficiencies, including Russell Stover’s discharges of acidic wastewater to a publicly owned treatment works.  In July 2009, EPA issued an administrative compliance order to Russell Stover to cease discharges of its acidic wastewater and  provide monitoring and additional information to EPA.  The violations were documented by sampling conducted by Russell Stover but did not stop until EPA issued the compliance order in 2009.  After the 2009 order was issued, the company implemented pretreatment measures and enhanced its discharge monitoring.

EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said, "This settlement sends a clear message.  Companies that use publicly-owned treatment works to treat their wastewater must follow the law.  In this case, Russell Stover had been discharging acidic wastewater for years, and deteriorated sewer lines and manholes in Iola.”  The consent decree requires Russell Stover to perform compliance monitoring for a period of two years and submit a “Phase II” pretreatment plan if the monitoring shows non-compliance.  The consent decree is subject to a public comment period and court approval before it becomes final.


KS Firm to Pay $6.1 Million Medicare Settlement

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department says a Kansas hospice care provider and its Texas-based parent company have agreed to pay $6.1 million to settle allegations they submitted false claims to the Medicare program. The settlement with Wichita-based Hospice Care of Kansas LLC and Fort Worth-based Voyager HospiceCare Incorporated was announced Thursday. The deal results from a whistleblower lawsuit first filed more than six years ago by Beverly Landis, a Hospice Care of Kansas nurse. Landis will receive $1.34 million under provisions of the federal False Claims Act. The government alleged the companies submitted false Medicare claims between 2004 and 2008 for patients who did not have prognoses of six months or less to live — a requirement for the benefits. An attorney for Landis, David White, says his client feels vindicated by the settlement.

Hearing Date set for Parents of Children Found Blindfolded, Bound in Parking Lot

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — An attorney for a suburban Chicago mother accused in Kansas of abusing her five children says the woman was unaware of how the children were being treated. Deborah and Adolfo Gomez of Northlake, Illinois, appeared separately in Douglas County District Court in Lawrence to set preliminary hearing dates. The couple were arrested last week after two of their children were found tied up and blindfolded outside their SUV in a Walmart parking lot in Lawrence. Three older children were found inside the vehicle unrestrained. Deborah Gomez's attorney says the woman didn't know what was happening to her children when she went into the store and left them with the father. Both parents are being held on $50,000 bond and are scheduled for a preliminary hearing next Thursday.
Kansas SRS, living center at odds over audit

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The state's social services department is asking an independent living center that serves much of southern Kansas pay $228,184 within a month, with a potential for hundreds of thousands of dollars in more debt. The Hutchinson News reports that the head of Prairie Independent Living Resource Center says the service will close if the requirement stands. Others say the fines are retribution by the state social services department for complaints from independent living centers across Kansas about waiting lists. SRS spokeswoman Angela de Rocha says no wrongdoing is suspected. She says the problem is inadequate record keeping and the agency offers training to avoid such issues. Chris Owens, Prairie Independent's executive director, said it also faces the potential of repaying $987,362 for the federal portion of Medicaid payments.


Tuition to Rise Again this Fall at KS Colleges

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Students at public universities in Kansas will pay as much as 6.9 percent more for tuition this fall. The Kansas Board of Regents has approved tuition increases proposed by officials of the six public universities and the University of Kansas Medical Center. For undergraduates from Kansas, increases will range from 2.9 percent at Fort Hays State University to 6.2 percent at Emporia State. The biggest increase will be 6.9 percent for newly enrolling out-of-state undergraduates at the University of Kansas. Fort Hays State sought no increase for out-of-state undergraduates. The increases are expected to raise an additional $31 million in the next academic year. Officials of the institutions said the money will cover higher operating costs and extra pay for employees.


Tougher Admissions Standards Coming to KU

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The University of Kansas will have tougher admissions standards than the state's other public colleges beginning in 2016. The Kansas Board of Regents has approved a proposal to boost requirements for incoming freshmen. Admission will be automatic for applicants with at least a "B'' average in high school; others would have their applications reviewed by a committee. The University of Kansas sought the change, saying it should improve graduation rates. Students can now enter any state college by scoring 21 on the ACT, having a 2.0 GPA in a college prep curriculum or graduating in the top third of their high-school classes. The new standards for KU add requirements for grade-point averages.


KS Legislature's Failure to Redistrict May Cost $600K

Kansas could face paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees in a federal lawsuit over the Legislature's failure to redraw the state's political boundaries this year.  As of today (THUR), attorneys for 15 of the 27 people listed as suing Secretary of State Kris Kobach over unequal political representation had submitted requests to have legal fees and expenses covered by the state. Together, their requests totaled more than $600,000.  Kobach said today (THUR) that the requests are excessive. He was initially listed as the only defendant because his office administers elections using whatever political boundaries are in place.  Most of the people listed as plaintiffs were allowed to join the lawsuit by three federal judges handling the case, the same judges who drew the district boundaries earlier this month.


FBI Investigating Rape Allegations at Sedgwick Co Jail

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The FBI is investigating allegations of misconduct at the Sedgwick County Jail.  An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the investigation Wednesday, the day after a jail deputy was arrested after two inmates alleged they had been raped. Sheriff Robert Hinshaw announced Tuesday that the 21-year-old detention deputy was arrested on suspicion of several offenses, including aggravated criminal sodomy and mistreatment of confined persons. Hinshaw tells the Wichita Eagle that he welcomes the separate FBI investigation and would cooperate completely. Hinshaw said sheriff's detectives will present results of their investigation soon to prosecutors, who will decide if charges will be filed.


Former Parks Employees Pursue Claim Against Topeka

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Ten former employees of Topeka's parks and recreation department are seeking a total of $745,000 from the city over severance packages.The employees lost their jobs with the city when the Topeka and Shawnee County parks and recreations departments were consolidated under county control January 1.  They all are now working for the county but they claim the new jobs offer substantially less pay and benefits. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the employees contend they weren't given severance benefits, which the city code requires if employees lose their jobs through no fault of their own.  It also claims the city tried to manipulate the forfeiture of the clients' severance.  The law gives the city 120 days to decide whether to grant or deny the claims.


Meteorite Report Grounds Colorado Firefighting Planes

BELLVUE, Colo. (AP) — Authorities say reports of a possible meteorite - or meteor shower - briefly grounded firefighting aircraft battling a Colorado wildfire. Meteorologist Scott Entrekin, of the National Weather Service, says emergency officials in Chaffee County reported a possible meteor in the skies near the Springer Fire. They briefly grounded four single-engine aircraft fighting the 1,100-acre blaze west of Colorado Springs. Entrekin said yesterday (WED) that the crews of two commercial aircraft flying over Liberal, Kansas reported what appeared to be a meteorite at 1:47pm.  He said the Colorado sighting occurred at about the same time. The Federal Aviation Administration says it has no confirmed reports of a meteorite. It says there were no reported disruptions to commercial airlines.


Kansas AG's Office Offers Open Government Training

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas attorney general's office will hold five training sessions next month on the state's Open Meetings and Open Records Act. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Wednesday the sessions will give elected officials, the news media and the public a chance to learn about the requirements of open government laws. The three-hour seminars are scheduled July 16th in Hutchinson; July 17th in Dodge City; July 19th in Iola; and July 20th in Leavenworth and Topeka. Sponsors include the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, Kansas Press Association and Kansas Newspaper Foundation. Admission is free, but space is limited and registration is requested at Schmidt's website or by calling 1-888-428-8436.


Survey Shows New Breeding Grounds for Prairie Chicken

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A new aerial survey of Kansas has revealed new breeding grounds for the lesser prairie chicken as the bird's habitat appears to be moving north.  The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism says the survey was part of a five-state project to determine the numbers of birds in the region and their breeding grounds. The survey was conducted ahead of the release of a proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Wildlife and Parks on the status of the birds.  Lesser prairie chickens have been considered a candidate under the Endangered Species Act since 1998 as a threatened or endangered species.  The Kansas survey suggests the lesser prairie chickens are expanding northward as habitat improves. Their numbers have been increasing in Kansas over the past 15 years.


Country Stampede Attracts Thousands to Manhattan

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Music fans have begun pitching their tents in north-central Kansas for the annual Country Stampede.  The four-day festival opens today (THUR) at Tuttle Creek Lake State Park north of Manhattan.  Tonight's (THUR) headliners include Luke Bryan. Other top acts include Travis Tritt and the Zac Brown Band on Friday night, Toby Keith on Saturday night and The Band Perry on Sunday night.  It's Keith's first appearance at the Stampede since 2002, and his fans include Tim Scott, who serves in the Army National Guard. Scott tells The Manhattan Mercury he appreciates what Keith does for the military.  Brad Atha, of Hutchinson, says he's looking forward to hearing two of Tritt's biggest hits — "T-R-O-U-B-L-E" and "It's a Great Day to be Alive."  The Stampede has been drawing about 150,000 fans each year.


Kansas Receives $ in Settlement with AIG

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has received more than $560,000 from a multi-state settlement with insurance company American International Group Incorporated. Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger says the money has been deposited and will be used to support general government programs. The agreement settled a complaint from state regulators that AIG underreported workers' compensation premiums in past years. AIG agreed to pay a $100 million penalty plus $47 million in taxes and other assessments under the settlement.


Wyandotte Co Jailer Guilty of Having Sex with Inmate

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A northeastern Kansas jailer has pleaded guilty to illegal sexual relations with a female inmate. The Wyandotte County district attorney's office says 24-year-old Robert Saladrigas entered the plea yesterday (WED), the same day the charge was filed. District Attorney Jerome Gorman said Saladrigas, of Edwardsville, was employed at the Wyandotte County jail. He was charged with engaging in unlawful sex in early May with a female detainee. Saladrigas was released on a personal recognizance bond. Sentencing is scheduled for August 17.

Manhattan Airport Expansion Moves Forward

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The Manhattan City Commission has moved expansion plans for the Manhattan Regional Airport closer to reality. The commission has approved a design contract and accepted a federal grant that will fund most of the contract. Airport director Peter Van Kuren says the expansion is needed because jet service to Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago has increased the number of airport passengers. The airport handled more than 54,000 passengers in 2011 and expects to increase that by another 10,000 this year. The Manhattan Mercury reports the terminal expansion is designed as one building but will be built in four phases. The contract approved Tuesday covers the first three phases. The design cost is $1.28 million, but the airport received a $911,565 federal grant for the project.

Wait to Renew Tags Continues in Shawnee County

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Shawnee County citizens continue to be frustrated by delays caused by a new computer system for Kansas vehicle and title registrations. Employees of the county treasurer's office say they are just as frustrated by delays that began after the new $40 million motor vehicle system was installed. The office usually stops taking numbers at noon and is three weeks behind on mail-in renewals. A spokeswoman for the state revenue department says counties statewide have processed 36.5 percent more renewals and 24 percent more titles and registrations than by this time last year. She credits the new system for that improvement. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports citizens often take their frustrations out on the staff but most people at the office blame the state for the delays.

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