At the regular meeting of the Abilene City Commission Monday, the definition of “public” was at issue in the request by Flint Hills Grain to vacate a portion of roads around the facility.
In his motion to deny the vacation, Mayor Tim Shafer said there was a “substantial public interest.” That motion passed 2-1 with Commissioner Dee Marshall agreeing to keep the streets open to the public. Commissioner Chris Ostermann was the dissenting vote. Commissioners Sharon Petersen and Trevor Witt were absent.
The roads in question were Southwest Second Street west of Walnut, Elm Street from First Street to Second Street and an alleyway going down the Flint Hills Grain property.
City Attorney Aaron Martin said there were no adjoining land owners although property owned by Henry Karraker touched corners, but the road in front of that property was not being vacated. Karraker spoke out against the vacation.
Martin said Kansas statute states that the “public will suffer no loss or inconvenience” in order to approve the vacation.
“It does not speak of the public interest, just the public,” he said. “Generally, as I recommend that you interpret that, that generally means the public at large as their interest may be impacted by this decision that you would make.”
Shafer asked if “the public” has been defined.
“Not in Kansas,” he said. “Ultimately your decision must be reasonable. I wish I could offer you a more black-line rule for you.”
“So do I,” Shafer said.
Hank Royer gave the commission the 11th petition protesting the vacation. He said 180 people have said they would be inconvenienced by giving the roads to Flint Hills Gain.
“I don’t have a problem sharing the streets. Why do they have a problem sharing it with me?” said Nicole Beck.
Todd Luckman, attorney for Flint Hills Grain, had a different definition of “public.”
He said no one lives on those streets.
“I think the question that came up was about what private rights are at issue here. Our legal position, based on research on this, is that the private interests are exclusively private land owners in the area; people that are on the adjoining streets of the area that is being vacated,” he said. “There is the general right of the public to talk about the impact to them but I wouldn’t merge them with the private rights interest under the statutes.”
Allison Forsyth, grain merchandiser with Flint Hills Grain, said safety was the main reason for asking the city to vacate the roads.
“Our first point is safety,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be an employee there for six years and we have not had an accident on those streets. We’ve had a lot of farmers ask why we have not vacated the streets.”
She said the semitrailer grain trucks as well as the employees must cross Elm Street to get to the grain bins.
She also said there were no expansion plans.
“We do not plan on using any of those lots for any form of expansion,” she said.
Royer said everybody admits there is a heavy use of the road.
A traffic study conducted and compiled by the Abilene Public Works Department showed 336 vehicles used Southwest Second during a 12 hour period and 465 during a 24-hour period.
The study showed 95 percent were passenger cars and trucks and semitrailers and straight trucks made up 0.8 percent of all traffic. It showed 89 percent of the traffic traveled between 20 to 35 miles per hour within a 30 mile per hour posted speed limit.
Contact Tim Horan at email@example.com.