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K-State to remove trees to preempt ash borer

K-State is removing most of its 251 ash trees on campus as a proactive measure to minimize the effects of the emerald ash borer — an invasive insect that is decimating the ash tree population as it moves westward across the country.

“Emerald ash borer is a threat to the area,” said Dave Bruton, marketing and utilization forester with the Kansas Forest Service. “It is not yet to the Manhattan area, but K-State is being proactive in removing ash trees, so they do not have to remove all the trees at one time.”

He said the key to an effective EAB plan like K-State’s is proactive management that works in advance of an infestation and therefore, spreads out the economic and environmental impact. In keeping with a K-State EAB Readiness Plan, a majority of the 251 ash trees on campus will be removed in anticipation of an inevitable infestation in the area.

Trees flagged for removal include those in decline, with poor structure or serious defects, or those in poor locations. When all of the identified ash trees around campus are removed, replacement trees will be planted, according to a report from K-State Research and Extension.

“Instead of just chopping them for firewood or taking them to the landfill, we decided as a committee to look at ways we could use the trees,” said Ryan Swanson, associate vice president of facilities and university architect at K-State.

Committee members from the K-State Campus Planning, Facilities Management, Landscape Advisory Committee and the Kansas Forest Service have moved ahead with a plan to mill lumber from the ash trees to be used in design or capital building projects. Last week, ash trees removed around Dole Hall were milled into boards at a milling demonstration sponsored by the Kansas Forest Service and the K-State Division of Facilities.

“Each tree is unique. Just like people, you never see two exactly alike,” Bruton said. “When we mill through these, we are finding unique pieces in here.”

Milled boards from the demonstration will be utilized in campus building and design projects. Capital building projects on campus are two to three years out in the planning stages, but Swanson said, “If we don’t have it, we can’t use it.”

For now, he and his team in the Division of Facilities will season the milled lumber for experimental projects. Unique milled lumber, like that from campus ash trees, can be used to build tables, wainscoting, architectural ceilings and other applications.

“Architecturally, ash is a bit brighter than say a walnut or a darker wood. It does have a nice chocolate tone where you have knots,” said Swanson. “I think all wood has character, but knowing this wood came from here on campus gives it more character.”

Though EAB has required the proactive removal of trees across campus, many trees will continue contributing to the beauty of campus.

Learn more about EAB and K-State’s plan for the infestation on the Division of Facilities website:

Manhattan man pleads guilty to rape, burglary

A Manhattan man has pleaded guilty to burglary and rape charges.

Dexter Robinson, 27, had initially been charged with rape, two counts of aggravated criminal sodomy, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary in connection with an incident July 13.

The plea agreement, filed April 29 in Riley County District Court, requests Robinson be sentenced to the mid-range amount based on sentencing guidelines and that the sentences run consecutively during imprisonment.

The document says Robinson will likely be sentenced to at least 18 years, or 219 months.

At a preliminary hearing in October, the victim said she was planning on going to Aggieville with friends on the night of July 13.

The woman was identified in court, but The Mercury usually does not identify victims of sexual assault.

The woman said she realized she forgot her phone and ID at her friend’s apartment and returned alone to get the items. She said a man pushed her into the apartment and raped her.

Police used fingerprints on an Apple Watch box taken from the apartment and DNA on a disposed shirt to link Robinson to the incident.

A sentencing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. June 17 at the courthouse.

Amanda Arnold elementary evacuates after kitchen smokes

A smoking microwave caused students and staff at Amanda Arnold Elementary School to evacuate the building Wednesday morning.

The Manhattan Fire Department responded to the school at 1435 Hudson Ave. just before 10 a.m.

Officials evacuated the Amanda Arnold building as a precaution.

MFD reported no actual fire and no injuries.

Officials allowed students to return to the building about 40 minutes after the incident was reported.

A post from the school’s Facebook page said students would be served a different meal for lunch, but there was no need for people to bring food.

Staff photo by Matt Lunsford  

Geoff Spice of Topeka directs a crane operator to move an HVAC unit to the roof of Buffalo Wild Wings in Aggieville on Wednesday.

Riley County Chief Judge Meryl Wilson retiring

Riley County District Court Judge Meryl Wilson is expected to retire next month, according to the Riley County District Court Clerk’s Office.

Wilson, who has served as a district judge for more than 20 years, plans to retire June 14.

Wilson practiced law in Manhattan from 1974 to 1997. During that time, he served on the Manhattan-Ogden School Board.

After that, he began working as a district judge in the 21st Judicial District, which includes Riley and Clay Counties. The Kansas Supreme Court appointed Wilson as chief judge in 2012.

Wilson received his bachelor’s degree in history from K-State in 1971 and graduated with a law degree from Washburn University in 1974.

The chief judge, in addition to his judicial responsibilities, generally oversees case assignment within the district, as well as supervises the administrative functions of the court.

City eyes potential speed cameras

The Manhattan City Commission wants traffic data and state input before setting up speed cameras around the city.

At a work session Tuesday evening, Dennis Marstall, assistant city manager, discussed some of the details and legal issues. The commission had previously asked city administrators in March to examine the possibility of setting up speed cameras, particularly around school zones.

Marstall said these cameras would be different than red light cameras, which are set up specifically at intersections to look at movement after a light change. Speed cameras would look more closely at traffic flows.

The cameras would first determine if a driver is speeding, then take a picture of the license plate, Marstall said. In other cities with speed cameras, Marstall said a civil or municipal offense citation, as opposed to a criminal offense citation, is sent to the registered vehicle owner.

However, that option is not available in Kansas. Under state statute, cities and municipalities may not create lesser offenses by ordinance for state traffic violations, which speeding falls under, said city attorney Katharine Jackson.

“Other states have enabled their local jurisdictions to create local municipal offenses (for speeding), so it’s a lesser offense, like a parking ticket,” Jackson said. “Our state has not done that, so that whole scheme is not available to the city of Manhattan.”

Commissioner Jerred McKee asked whether it was even possible to mail these citations.

Riley County Police Department director Dennis Butler said by legislation, an officer would have to observe any potential violations and serve the violator in person.

Additionally, there is no state law either prohibiting or enabling Kansas cities from enacting speed camera programs.

In the early 2000s, the League of Kansas Municipalities pushed for legislation on the matter, but those efforts went nowhere.

Olathe also tried to implement its own speed camera program, but stopped pursuing the program after the city realized that a legal challenge could also jeopardize its use of cameras for traffic flow and congestion purposes.

“Since there is no state legislation enabling or prohibiting, we would be a test case,” Marstall told the commissioners.

Marstall said that while the program could bring revenue for the city, the program would be intended to augment existing enforcement efforts.

“As we look at enforcement techniques, revenue is not the consideration,” Marstall said. “Enforcement techniques are always set up generally for safety issues, or to control some type of behavior.”

Marstall said RCPD stations officers at known speeding areas as a deterrent and as a reminder for drivers to slow down. However, the city has no data on how severe of a problem speeding is around school zones, he said.

“Is school zone speeding a true issue?” Marstall said. “We just don’t have the data, and the fact that school is going to be out here in nine days or so, to gather that data right now would be a little problematic, so maybe we can talk about the fall and generating some data on our school zone speeding information.”

Since the city itself cannot enforce laws, any contract with speed camera vendors would need to be a third-party contract involving RCPD, Marstall said.

Camera systems could be fixed or mobile, Marstall said, including trailer-mounted cameras. Additionally, officers in patrol cars with radar guns could be equipped with cameras to also capture license plates.

Marstall presented three approaches to advance the issue: ask the Kansas legislature to add speed cameras to its 2020 agenda, collect data on speeding in school zones or consider implementing speed cameras without state legislation.

The last approach could leave the city open to lawsuits, Marstall said.

Commissioner Usha Reddi asked whether it would be possible to put in temporary, less invasive speed control measures around schools, such as speed bumps.

City officials said temporary speed bumps exist and could be put up during heavy traffic in the mornings and afternoons, but that would take resources and staffing.

Commissioner Linda Morse said it is worth a shot to see if the League of Kansas Municipalities would be willing to take the issue to the legislature a second time, but that she wasn’t “anxious to have Manhattan be the test case” due to the costs and the expenses.

“I don’t think I’m interested in Manhattan being on the bleeding edge of this,” Morse said. “On the other hand, if there is some way that we can obtain data, I would support working with the League of Kansas Municipalities.”

Although city officials said they weren’t looking at potential revenues from a speed camera system, commissioner Wynn Butler said it needs to be a consideration. He said he doesn’t want the city to install speed cameras if it will drive up costs, but would consider a scaled-down program to start.

“I don’t want to drive up tickets, but overall, this system would have to be beneficial for the police department and the utilization of those officers,” Butler said.

Mayor Mike Dodson asked RCPD director Butler what constitutes speeding in a school zone. Butler said there’s no exact policy, and it’s mainly up to the officer’s discretion when to issue a ticket.

Food, bike plans

The commission also heard updates from several city groups, including the Riley County Food and Farm Council.

The group, which was founded last year, has been analyzing food accessibility in Riley County. According to the group, about 30,000 Riley County residents in six census tracts live in a “food desert.”

Vickie James, a member of the group’s board, defined food desert as “lower-income areas where people must travel at least one mile in an urban area or 10 miles in a rural area to get to their nearest supermarket or grocery store.”

Dodson and commissioner Butler expressed doubt as to the extent and accuracy of the statistic, but Reddi said there are a lot of metrics in evaluating what counts as a food desert, such as income and age, in addition to location.

“When I’m in Ogden, I see that it’s a family event to go get groceries, unless you consider the Dollar General a grocery store,” Reddi said.

Over the next year, James said she hopes the group will continue to work with community partners to find strategies to increase food availability and reduce food waste across Riley County.

The commission also heard an update on the city’s bicycle and pedestrian systems plan, which officials last updated in 1999.

John Adam, senior planner, said the city hopes to create a comprehensive plan for the next 20 years that will address not only biking and recreational trails in the city, but everyday transportation needs for the city’s cyclists and pedestrians. Over the summer, the city will work with a consultant to put together a list of projects to prioritize in that plan, Adam said.