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Headlines for Tuesday, March 14, 2023

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Emily Fisher

TC Energy Executive Grilled by Kansas Lawmakers

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - An executive with a Canadian energy company has been in the hot seat in Topeka, getting grilled by state lawmakers about the company's Keystone pipeline and its massive oil spill in northern Kansas. Democratic lawmaker John Carmichael, of Wichita, questioned Gary Salsman, the vice president of TC Energy. "Landowners and citizens are concerned about this. When should we expect you to be done?," Carmichael said. Salsman responded, "Unfortunately that’s not entirely within our control." Salsman said his company is committed to remediating the site and has cleaned up most of the oil. He wouldn’t talk to reporters after testifying. The company's Keystone pipeline erupted in December, spilling more than half-a-million gallons of oil in Washington County. Hundreds of workers have been working to clean-up the site ever since.


Retailer Seeks Permit to Build Beef Plant in Eastern Kansas

OLATHE, Kan. (Drovers) - A new beef production plant could be coming to eastern Kansas. According to Drovers.com, a website about the beef business, a mystery company wants to build a large facility in Olathe. If approved, the project would result in the construction of a state-of-the art beef production facility in southwest Olathe, employing nearly 700 workers. The plant would not slaughter animals, but process and pack beef into retail-ready products. Animals would be raised and slaughtered in another state. Last week, the Olathe City Council received a request for $257 million in industrial revenue bonds. The request was submitted by a large accounting firm that was not at liberty to divulge the name of their client. (Read more from Drovers.com.)


Wichita Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit with Family for $5 Million

WICHITA, Kan. (KMUW/KNS) - A $5 million dollar settlement has been reached in a federal lawsuit involving the shooting death of Andrew Finch by a Wichita police officer. Finch was shot and killed by Officer Justin Rapp during a fake emergency police call in 2017. Finch was killed on his front porch when he went outside to investigate why police were surrounding his house. The Wichita City Council approved the settlement on a 6-1 vote, with Jeff Blubaugh voting no. During the vote, council member Bryan Frye said the shooting should have never happened. "No amount of money will ever bring back Andrew, but it's time to heal and it's time to put this past us," he said. A federal appeals court last year denied qualified immunity for Rapp, allowing the suit to move forward at the time.


Proponents of Medicaid Expansion to Rally at Kansas Statehouse Wednesday

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Supporters of Medicaid expansion will rally at the Kansas Statehouse Wednesday afternoon (1:15pm). Organizers want lawmakers to act on the governor's proposal to extend health coverage to another 150,000 low-income Kansans. Kansas is one of 11 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid. GOP lawmakers opposed to expansion say it’s too costly. But advocates say new federal incentives give the state an opportunity to initially save money by expanding coverage. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly says expanding Medicaid this year is a long-shot. But with polls showing that more than 70 percent of Kansans support expansion... she says, next year’s election could turn the tide. “This will be a campaign issue," she said. "I think that might have some impact.” Lawmakers passed expansion in 2017 but then Republican Governor Sam Brownback vetoed it. Since then, Republican leaders have blocked a vote on the issue.


KU Scientists: Groundwater Levels Continue to Drop

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - Groundwater levels in western and south-central Kansas fell by their largest amounts since 2012. That's according to new water well measurements taken by the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the the University of Kansas. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that the region saw water levels fall for the third straight year as a drought has spread across the state. The average decline in groundwater levels was 1.89 feet for the High Plains Aquifer that stretches all the way to the Kansas-Colorado border and has fingers that stretch as far east as Wichita. In 2022, the High Plains Aquifer, which includes the Ogallala Aquifer, posted its third largest decline in the last 25 years.

A region around Wichita, known as the Equus Beds, saw an average drop of 2.03 feet, its steepest decline since 2016. The Equus Beds serve as a major source of water for both Wichita and Hutchinson. The Kansas Geological Survey measures water levels in more than 1,100 wells across 49 counties to come up with the averages. Most of the water well measurements take place in January each year.


Prepare for Smoke in the Flint Hills; Burning Season Is Near

FLINT HILLS, Kan. (KNS) - It's the time of year when Kansas landowners, especially in the Flint Hills, begin burning their grasslands. The burning creates a lot of smoke, so health officials are advising people to take precautions. Smoke can cause burning eyes, runny nose, coughing and bronchitis. For residents where smoke is thick, the state recommends closing windows and doors, plus keeping indoor air clean with new air filters. The controlled burns are supposed to help conserve the ecosystem, protect it from invasive species and reduce wildfire risks. Roughly two million acres of range-land in the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas are burned each year.


Human Remains Found in September Identified as Missing Lawrence Man

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) - Lawrence police say human remains found in September have been identified as those of a missing Lawrence man, 42-year-old Dean Allen Morrison. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Morrison had last been seen in April of 2022. He had been reported missing in June. His skeletal remains were discovered September 19th in a wooded area south of Bob Billings Parkway, east of K-10 highway Morrison’s cause and manner of death were undetermined but foul play is not suspected.

A GoFundMe page has been created by Morrison’s brother, Jason Morrison, asking for donations in support of a memorial service.


First Kansas Bills Signed into Law in 2023 Involve Art Projects at the Kansas Statehouse

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - The first two bills to become Kansas law this year involve art projects. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that one bill reauthorizes a replica of the Native American warrior statue atop the Capitol dome. The other bill involves a Statehouse mural of the first Black soldiers in the Civil War. Governor Laura Kelly signed the bills into law Monday.

Under the new laws, a life-sized replica of the Ad Astra sculpture that sits on top of the dome will be built at ground-level at the Statehouse. The bronze statue is already made and has been sitting in storage in Salina, waiting to be placed on a granite pedestal that sits empty on the southwest lawn of the Statehouse. Meanwhile, a mural will be made inside the Statehouse of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment. That regiment was the first U.S. military unit comprised of African-American soldiers.


Kansas Could Get New State Park

TOPEKA (WIBW) – Kansas could be getting a new state park. A bill moving through the Legislature aims to create a new state park in Allen County. It would be the 28th state park in Kansas. WIBW TV reports that the bill was originally introduced by Republican Rep. Fred Gardner, of Garnett, on behalf of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP). The bill would add the Lehigh Portland State Park, near Iola, to the official list of state parks. The site, which includes a lake and 14 miles of trail, is home to a former cement plant and quarry along the banks of Elm Creek in Iola. The property is a mix of woodlands, meadows and native prairie.


Masks No Longer Mandatory at Lawrence Hospital

LAWRENCE, Kan. (LJW) — Lawrence Memorial Hospital has announced that wearing face masks is now optional at all LMH Health facilities. The hospital says it’s changing masking guidelines due to the lower levels of COVID-19 in the community. The Lawrence Journal-World reports that masking is now optional in most areas of the hospital but certain areas, including those with immune-compromised patients, will continue to require masks. Hospital staff will wear a mask if a patient requests it. If COVID-19 levels in the community rise again, masking would become mandatory again.


Kansas Lawmakers Consider Extending Home Delivery of Alcohol

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - Kansas lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow grocery stores, restaurants and liquor stores to deliver alcoholic beverages to customers’ homes. The Topeka Capital journal reports that businesses would be allowed to deliver beer, wine and liquor either directly or through a delivery service such as Door-Dash or Uber Eats. Proponents of the bill say more than half of all states already allow for the delivery of alcohol. The lifting of the delivery restrictions began during the height of the pandemic and many states have made the change permanent. The bill would require an ID check to confirm the customer is 21 years or older. But opponents say they’re not convinced that increasing access to alcohol is a good thing. Research has shown that home delivery laws loosened during the pandemic were partially responsible for an increase in drinking, including binge drinking. And they say, it would be difficult for regulators to determine whether someone is purchasing alcohol for minors.


Kansas Bill Prohibits Communities from Banning Any Type of Business

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - A bill in the Kansas Legislature would prohibit cities and counties from banning any type of business in their communities. The bill is in response to a proposed ordinance in Wichita that would have banned retail sales of animals like dogs and cats because of concerns over how they’re treated. Becky Hertel owns a pet store in Wichita. She says the city should not be able to stop pet stores from operating. “These people had the ability to kill my business," she said. "If I can’t do what my business plan is, my doors will close.” Opponents say the bill is too broad and would have unintended consequences, including blocking communities from banning unwanted businesses, like strip clubs. Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has opposed some bills that crack down on "home rule" or local authority. She vetoed a bill last year that would have prohibited cities from banning plastic bags.


Clean-up Continues After Train Derailment in McPherson

MCPHERSON, Kan. (AP) — Clean-up continues after a weekend train derailment in central Kansas. Officials with Union Pacific say a broken wheel likely caused a train to slide off the tracks Sunday in McPherson, spilling denatured alcohol. Thirteen cars derailed Sunday morning. No one was injured and officials said there was no threat to the public.


In Wake of Ohio Train Derailment, Will Rail Safety Be a Priority in Kansas?

TOPEKA, Kan. (TCJ) - The derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, has raised concerns about rail safety across the country, including in Kansas. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that there's no reason a similar accident couldn't occur in Kansas. Brandon Nunnenkamp, who has worked as a railroad engineer for 26 years, says "It is extremely possible." "We haul the same hazardous materials through Kansas," Nunnenkamp said. States across the country are considering improvements to rail safety in the wake of the East Palestine accident. Nationally, 15 states have introduced legislation to limit train length, increase safety mechanisms and ensure adequate crew sizes. In Kansas, such ideas have long been proposed but have not gotten much traction due to long-running legal concerns.

On average, one train derails in Kansas every month. The Federal Railway Administration says there were 53 train derailments in the state between 2018 and 2021, though none were as serious as the Norfolk Southern accident in Ohio. One factor that some believe played a role in the Ohio accident was the sheer length of the train, which stretched to 150 cars long. Residents and rail workers have expressed concern over train lengths in Kansas. While freight companies insist that longer trains have no bearing on safety, some Kansas lawmakers are unconvinced. Legislation in the Senate Transportation Committee would prohibit freight companies from running trains of over 8,500 feet in length.


K-State Research: Trees Taking over the Prairie

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas State University scientists say saving the prairie from encroaching trees is even harder than they thought. The trees taking over the Great Plains grasslands are sometimes called the “Green Glacier.” At K-State, scientists have been cutting back junipers, dogwoods and other invaders along streams near Manhattan - and replanting prairie grasses. But humans have changed the environment so much that woody plants have the upper hand. Climate change is one factor. As trees spread, the prairie can’t support as many cattle. And streams are shrinking because the woody plants use so much water. K-State biology Professor Walter Dodds says removing the invaders along streams near Manhattan and replanting prairie grasses doesn’t seem to stop the problem. “We’re shifting. And even if we hit it really hard, we still can’t get it back off that trajectory," he said.


Prosecutor: No Charges in Fatal Kansas City Police Shooting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City, Missouri, police officer who fatally shot a man at a convenience store nearly two years ago will not be charged with a crime, following a decision by a special prosecutor. Malcolm Johnson was killed in March 2021. Some civil rights, religious and community activists said the shooting of Johnson, who was Black, was part of a trend of officers killing Black men. They questioned if officers gave Johnson sufficient time to surrender before shooting him. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell's office announced Monday that no charges should be filed. Bell's office took on the case after Jackson County, Missouri, prosecutors cited a conflict of interest.

"Given the review of all the evidence, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer who shot Malcolm Johnson was not acting in lawful self-defense or defense of others under Missouri law," Bell's office said in a statement. The decision drew criticism from some civil rights groups.

"This case is not only tragic but also a clear example of how KCPD gets away with murder, covers it up, and claims it is justice. This is not justice," the organization Decarcerate Kansas City wrote on Twitter. Khadijah Hardaway, a spokeswoman for the family of Malcolm Johnson, said the family will ask the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the decision not to charge the officer who shot Johnson. "We're just asking for transparency and justice for the Malcolm Johnson family," Hardaway said.

On the evening of March 25, 2021, two officers seeking Johnson for an unrelated shooting found him at a convenience store and approached him with their guns drawn. Surveillance video showed the officers grab Johnson. More officers joined in trying to restrain Johnson on the ground and an officer was shot. The report by Bell's office said the wounded officer shot Johnson twice in the head. But videos of the shooting raised questions about the police version, and the leader of a group of clergy who questioned the circumstances called Johnson's death "an execution." Police Chief Stacey Graves said department officials "recognize there is still work to do with our community to build that trust and under my leadership relationships are among my top priorities," the Kansas City Star reported.


Inmate Dies at El Dorado Correctional Facility

EL DORADO, Kan. (KPR) - An inmate has died at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. The Kansas Department of Corrections says 35-year-old Marcos Issac Delarosa died Monday. He was found unresponsive in his housing unit. The cause of death is pending the results of an independent autopsy but a preliminary assessment indicates his death was not related to COVID-19. Delarosa was serving a 9-and-a-half year sentence for drug convictions in Ford County. Per protocol when an inmate dies in state custody, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation will look into the death.


Former Nurse Sentenced for Stealing Opioids from Kansas Hospital

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KPR) - A Kansas man has been sentenced to 1.5 years in prison - and lost his nursing license - for stealing prescription drugs from his employer. Federal prosecutors say 32-year-old Alec Ramirez, of Overland Park, removed vials of fentanyl and another drug from an automated dispensing cabinet at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park and replaced the substances with an alternate liquid before returning the vials to the cabinet. In December 2022, Ramirez pleaded guilty to one count of tampering with a consumer product and one count of possession of fentanyl by deception and subterfuge.


Mountain Lion Sightings on the Rise in Kansas

TOPEKA (KSNT) – Mountain lions are on the prowl and showing up more often in Kansas. KSNT reports that the big cats have been spotted roaming near populated areas with greater frequency in just the past few years. Biologist Matt Peek, with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, says sighting of the large cats are still rare in Kansas but they have increased recently. And, he says, people often report seeing a mountain lion when, in reality, they saw a bobcat, coyote or some other animal, which makes confirmed sightings more difficult to track. Peek says his agency has always kept tabs on mountain lion activity in the state and has noticed an increase in recent years. The first confirmed sighting of a mountain lion in modern times occurred in 2007 when one was shot and killed in Barber County. Before that, the last mountain lion documented in Kansas was killed in 1904 in Ellis County.


Dozen of Stolen Vehicles Located in Miami County

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (WDAF/KPR) - Three people are under arrest after nearly a dozen stolen vehicles were found in Miami County. WDAF TV reports that the Miami County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant on property in rural Osawatomie and found stolen trailers, cars, an RV, and a motorcycle with a total value of more than $100,000. Two men and one woman face multiple charges in connection with the stolen vehicles. They are also facing drug charges.


KU Women's Basketball Team Will Play in WNIT

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KPR) - After the Kansas Jayhawks were left out of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, KU accepted a bid to play in the W-N-I-T. KU was listed among the first four teams left out of the NCAA bracket. Women’s committee chair Lisa Peterson says the choice from the Big 12 came down to KU or West Virginia. "West Virginia had the better regular-season conference record," she said. "Then, the way that Kansas lost in the first round of their tournament was the differentiator between Kansas and West Virginia." KU lost to last-place TCU in the first round of the Big 12 tournament last week. KU, with its 19-11 record, and K-State will participate in the W-N-I-T, which has 64 teams.

Meanwhile, in men's action... KU takes on Howard in the second round of the NCAA tournament Thursday at 1pm. Howard's last appearance in March Madness was in 1992, when it also faced KU. The Jayhawks won that match-up 100-67. The Kansas State Wildcats will take on Montana State Friday night.


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Tom Parkinson and Kaye McIntyre. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays. These ad-free headlines are made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.