WELLINGTON, Kan. — Opponents of a federal grant to promote sustainable development in five south central Kansas counties hope that Sumner County’s decision not to participate in the planning group will encourage others to drop the effort. Supporters, meanwhile, say the regional planning proposal is important for the area’s future.
The $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Urban Development to the Regional Economic Area Partnership of South Central Kansas was designed to help Sedgwick, Butler, Reno, Harvey and Sumner counties work together to make planning decisions.
Opponents say the grant allows the federal government to intrude on local planning decisions. Some also link it to a United Nations international agreement called Agenda 21, which is a nonbinding agreement signed by 178 nations in 1992 that encourages using methods such as conservation, management and changing consumption patterns to promote sustainable development.
One of the leading opponents of the grant is Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau, who applauded Sumner County’s decision.
“I hope it will create a domino effect,” Ranzau said. “My intent is to kill this particular plan altogether.”
Paula Downs, project manager for the sustainable communities regional plan appointed by REAP, said Sumner County’s decision doesn’t exempt it from the planning process.
“Of course we wanted all of the counties and cities and as many people as possible to be involved in this effort,” said Downs, whose salary is paid by the grant. She was hired by the Hugo Wall School of Urban and Public Affairs at Wichita State University.
As for the criticisms, Downs said, “I can’t speak to Agenda 21 because none of my work plan has anything to do with the language in Agenda 21.”
Ranzau voted against Sedgwick County participating in the grant but the proposal was adopted by the commission. Sedgwick County agreed to commit more than $120,000 in in-kind contributions over three years, mostly staff time. The city of Wichita committed to providing $166,410.
Ranzau plans to attend a Reno County Commission meeting to urge that county to reject the grant.
Sedgwick County Commissioner and REAP chairman Dave Unruh plans to support the grant at the Aug. 7 Reno County meeting. Unruh said he doesn’t understand the concerns about Agenda 21.
“A lot of folks get emotional, and they are just assuming this is the beginning of world-centralized government that is going to be oppressive,” said Unruh, who noted that the grant is simply an “effort to make decisions about our future for us and our future generations that will save money, conserve resources and be the best solutions for all the folks in our region.”
Commission Chairman Tim Norton, president of the Kansas Association of Counties, said he sees the grant as a way to “look to the future, try to figure out best possible outcomes and make decisions today that will be good for tomorrow.”
Information from: The Wichita Eagle, http://www.kansas.com
(Story distributed by The Associated Press)