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Guests explore how airports, water treatment work in Discovery Center program

Residents got a behind-the-scenes look at local air travel and water service providers Saturday during the Flint Hills Discovery Center’s Secrets of Manhattan bus tour.

Participants had the chance to explore Manhattan Regional Airport, Heartland Aviation and the city’s water and wastewater treatment plants.

The tour was designed in conjunction with the Discovery Center’s current exhibit on display, “Dream with Da Vinci.” Education curator Stephen Bridenstine said the center wanted to connect Renaissance-era inventor Leonardo Da Vinci’s interests in flight, hydraulics and infrastructure to places found in the modern-day community.

“We hope the guests today have a new appreciation for all the hard work that goes into our community just to make our basic services possible,” Bridenstine said. “We take it for granted that when you turn on the faucet, you’ve got clean water that you can drink. After you flush that toilet, you don’t think twice about where it goes, either.”

Guests first traveled through the airport to see how TSA performs its security screenings. They also saw where luggage is handled and the air traffic control tower.

Mitch Morgan, airport security coordinator, said being a smaller airport means some people are responsible for several duties.

“The same guys that marshalled (the flight) in are the guys that unload your bags,” he said. “They’re the same guys that when you leave here, they’ll check you in, they’ll take your bags, and then they’re the ones that will load your bags onto the aircraft and get you out. In the in-between time, they’re cleaning aircraft and servicing the galley. They do it all.”

Up in the control tower, Garrett Risinger is one of the controllers responsible for making sure aircraft are able to land on the strips before him using his line of sight.

“We’re a (Visual Flight Rules) tower,” Risinger said. “We have no radar, so it’s all what we see and what the pilot reports.”

Later in the day, guests also had the opportunity to tour the city’s water treatment plant on the east side of town, which can run up to 20 million gallons of water per day during the summer.

As a water treatment plant operator, Odin Olson can see just how much water is running through all of the water wells located throughout the city and adjust them so the system is running at stable pressures.

He explained that the plant extracts groundwater at the wells and filters it through a system at the facility by mixing it with tons of crushed and baked limestone.

“It’s an ‘opposites attract’ kind of thing,” Olson said. “The lime and the minerals are opposite poles, so what happens is the lime attracts the minerals and sinks down in the water. That’s how we remove the minerals out of the water. ‘’

However, Olson said, while water should be clear, tasteless and odorless, the plant mixes about 10% of raw water back in for taste and to help cut down some costs.

“You don’t want to make it too tasteless, a lot of people aren’t accustomed to that,” Olson said. “Some of the people coming from western Kansas, they’re used to water that has a little bit of a crunch to it, you might say. They come to Manhattan and go, ‘Oh, this water tastes bad’ because they’re used to what they’re drinking.”

Olson said the cleaned water is then be passed through the top of the filter system, while the limestone and mineral mixture is pushed to the bottom of the million-gallon basins and pumped into a pit.

Olson said a contractor will clear out the limestone pit annually, but farmers will also occasionally take some and mix the minerals into their fields to replace what they’ve lost from regular tilling.

The Discovery Center is hosting two more bus tours this summer including visits to Tuttle Creek Dam and local energy centers. More information is available at

City officials found out of Stampede move through press conference

The Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce found out at the same time everyone else did that Country Stampede, now Heartland Stampede, was leaving for Topeka, Chamber President Jason Smith said.

Topeka city officials and Stampede officials announced Thursday that the state capital would be the new home of the music festival, which took place this weekend and has been in Manhattan the last 23 years. The new venue is Heartland Motorsports Park for at least the next three years.

Originally, Stampede President Wayne Rouse had said the event was moving to Topeka for this year only, because of flooding concerns at Tuttle Creek State Park.

Brad Everett, board member for the Manhattan Convention Visitors Bureau, said Rouse told the board at its June 5 meeting not to worry because the event would return next year.

Rouse told The Mercury Friday that when they started planning the layout on June 6, they began to plan for a more permanent move.

“We’re a business,” he said. “We love Manhattan; it was very good to us. The Chamber and the CVB have been exceptional. We had a great relationship with the state park, too. Moving here reduces our expenses, and it was ultimately a hard decision.”

Rouse said at the news conference announcing the move that Stampede would be leaving the state park because of rising costs.

Gil Cunningham, president of Neste Live!, which books acts for the event, said Thursday costs for artists have doubled over the past several years, as have costs of setting up the infrastructure. Cunningham said having some of the infrastructure in place as it it at Heartland and only having to set up a stage is more efficient.

He said raising ticket prices to offset the costs was not really an option. Rouse said prices for some of the top artists fans request had more than a 100% increase in the past five to seven years, so even doubling tickets for Stampede would not have made enough difference.

Everett said he was sad and disappointed to hear about the move. Especially troublesome, he said, was the way Stampede officials handled it, by not giving the city a real opportunity to help or make a counteroffer.

“After 23 years of contributing to the success of the festival, Manhattan and the region, I just wish they would’ve had a little more tact by sitting down with community leaders and having a conversation,” Everett said.

Smith said the Chamber has a $28,500 sponsorship agreement with Stampede. It has served as a sponsor for the last 23 years. He said the Chamber will be going through and looking at its ability to recoup the money for this year.

Rouse said he would not comment on that.

“Obviously we signed it a while ago, before we had any inclination they would be moving for one year, let alone this,” Smith said.

Everett said he wished both the city and the officials running Stampede had done more to communicate with each other, saying Stampede officials should’ve come forward with their frustration, and city officials should’ve been touching base with the festival-holders more often.

Rouse said the move to Topeka began as a matter of safety, but when he saw it was a way to remain in business, he took it.

“We couldn’t have kept going because you can’t raise ticket prices proportionately,” he said.

“We loved Manhattan. We love Manhattan. But we had to move closer to a higher populated area to attract more people. It’s hard to explain, but we definitely loved Manhattan. It was just an unfortunate situation because of the flood.”

Stampede was in the second year of a five-year contract worth $419,000 with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. The parties signed a termination agreement Wednesday that allowed Stampede to leave with no penalty. KDWPT officials called the decision “mutual and amicable.”

The contract included an opt-out provision, which Rouse said they negotiated last year to give Stampede the ability to leave.

Stampede paid the state $81,500 in 2018 and 2019. The KDWPT said it will refund the $81,500 from this year, as they could not have the festival in the park because of the flooding hazard.

Karen Hibbard, director of the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau, declined to comment, citing a press release from the Chamber that she said intended to serve as the only statement.

In part, the statement said the Chamber was disappointed it was ending, but said officials understood it was not “a reflection on the city of Manhattan or Tuttle Creek State Park.”

“To Karen’s credit, when Stampede needed a place, she brainstormed with them and met the Country Stampede folks to make sure they were doing their part, and she was successful,” Everett said.

“But it seems like that hard work and effort was for not, that they didn’t appreciate it.”

Rouse, who owns a house in Manhattan, said at this time there are no plans to move Stampede’s business office closer to Topeka.

Matt Lunsford 

From left, Andy Coffman of Eudora, Darrel and Jamie Kindle of Lawrence swallow frozen jello shots in the campground at Country Stampede at Heartland Motorsports Park on Thursday.

City’s third budget proposal would see 5.1% property tax increase

The city commission’s budgeting process continues with the latest budget proposal calling for a 5.1% increase in the average property owner’s taxes.

The budget work session is 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

City administrators trimmed the 2020 budget down to only need $30.3 million in property tax revenue, which is still a 6.6% increase from 2019 but lower than earlier proposals this year. With an offsetting effect from new properties and improvements, that revenue figure would be driven by a 2.317 mill increase in the property tax rate. A mill is $1 in property taxes for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value.

Based on a 0.4% increase in the average value of a home in the city, the 3.06 mill increase means that a homeowner paying $567.58 in city taxes for a $100,000 home in 2019 would pay $596.60 for a $100,400 home in 2020. That’s an increase of $29.02 or 5.1%.

Much of the budget decrease also comes from a decrease in the city’s general fund budget, which was pared down to $32.2 million, which still reflects an increase of 0.77% over 2019.

Much of that is from a $1.2 million increase in personnel services funding, which includes five new positions, although four of those positions are intended to be self-supporting through reduced expenses in contractual services and new revenues from those positions.

The personnel funding increase also takes into account a 1.6% cost-of-living adjustment and a 2% step increase.

The commission also traditionally reviews funding requests from outside agencies at its third budget meeting each year. They’ll review requests from Social Services Contracts, Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency, Downtown Manhattan, Manhattan Public Library, Manhattan Arts Center, Aggieville Business District and Wolf House Museum.

Most of those agencies ask for either continuances or minimal funding increases, with the exception of the library, which is requesting $3.5 million, an increase of $164,000 or 4.9% over 2019. In total, outside funding requests are $3.7 million.

‘She was a pioneer.’ Former Kansas congresswoman Jan Meyers dies at 90

Former Kansas Rep. Jan Meyers passed away Friday morning at the age of 90.

Meyers, a Johnson County Republican, represented Kansas’ 3rd congressional district for 12 years, from 1985 to 1997, including a two-year stint as chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee.

She was the first Republican woman to chair in more than 40 years when she took over the committee.

“I sincerely hope that women continue to run and continue to get elected, and I think that will ultimately result in more women being elected to leadership positions,” Meyers said at the time.

The Overland Park Republican adopted a constituent-focused approach as the representative for Johnson, Wyandotte and Miami Counties.

“Listen to your conscience and your constituents—both. Most of the time they’ll agree. If your conscience is different than your constituents, then you’ll have a hard time,” she said, according to her U.S. House biography.

Meyers’ passing was announced on Twitter Friday night by her one of former colleagues. She had been living in a nursing home.

“Congresswoman Jan Meyers was a trusted colleague, but most importantly a friend. I always looked up to Jan and depended on her advice and counsel during my time serving alongside her in Congress,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, who served with Meyers in the U.S. House.

Meyers was born July 20, 1928, in Superior, Nebraska, where her father was a newspaper publisher.

The congresswoman married Dutch Meyers in April 1953 and the couple had two children, Valerie Meyers and Philip Meyers. She has one granddaughter, Maria Meyers.

Meyers was elected to the U.S. House in 1984 after serving five years on the Overland Park City Council and 12 years in the Kansas Senate.

She made her first entry into Kansas Republican politics in 1966 as chairwoman for her predecessor Republican Rep. Larry Winn’s congressional campaign and two years later worked on Sen. Robert Dole’s first Senate campaign.

Meyers was president of the Overland Park City Council from 1970 to 1972 and was the first chairwoman of the Mid-America Regional Council.

In 1972, she was the first woman elected president of the League of Kansas Municipalities.

She mounted an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in 1978 before being elected to the U.S. House upon Winn’s retirement six years later.

Meyers distinguished herself from other Republicans in her support for abortion rights and gun control measures, but she was also a staunch fiscal conservative and supporter of anti-drug efforts.

“I mean, she was a pioneer,” said Mike Murray, her former chief of staff and campaign manager. “She was way ahead of today’s movement for women in politics. She was on the vanguard of that. “

While serving in the Congress, Meyers received numerous awards, including seven consecutive Golden Bulldog Awards from the Watchdogs of the Treasury for her votes to cut the federal deficit.

She also was named a Guardian of Small Business by the National Federation of Independent Business and a Taxpayers’ Friend by the National Taxpayers Union for her votes to cut spending and opposing tax increases.

“She was extremely thoughtful about the issues,” Murray said. “She was tough. You never tried to pull the wool over her eyes on anything. She was a moderate Republican. She was conservative on foreign policy and moderate on social issues.”

Murray noted Meyers’ background in local government. She had served on the board that purchased the land for Johnson Community College, he said.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said he first met Meyers in 1978 when she was campaigning door to door for her Senate bid. He praised her as a role model and trailblazer for women.

“To me, Jan was more than a public servant — she was also a friend. Jan never forgot who she worked for and always had time for the folks back home. The manner in which she met difficult circumstances with a smile gave me comfort, and I valued her kindness and gentle spirit. Our nation needs more public servants like Jan — people who put service above self,” Moran said.

Meyers signed the Republican Contract with America in 1994 and was a leader in the effort to reform the nation’s welfare system under House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

She made headlines in 2014 when she rescinded a reported endorsement of Democrat Paul Davis in the race for Kansas governor and threw her vocal support to incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Meyers was an honors graduate in communications from the University of Nebraska in 1951 and earned an associate degree in fine arts from William Woods College in Fulton, Missouri, four years later 1948.

In 1986, she received an honorary doctor of letters degree from William Woods College and an honorary doctor of laws degree from Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas.