As I See It

What has happened to democracy in Johnson County? How could the Board of Commissioners reject the repeated recommendations of their zoning board, the warnings of environmental experts, and the wishes of the citizens who elected them by granting Hunt Martin Materials – a scofflaw corporation -- a permit to continue operating Sunflower Quarry? The company has thumbed its nose at Johnson County for over four years by running the quarry without a permit in blatant violation of regulations.

During those years, the county simply fined the corporation at amounts so inconsequential that Hunt Martin (previously Hunt Midwest Enterprises) treated them as a cost of doing business. (How many independent business people would find the county government so accommodating?)

And, why did the county retain a Montana engineer to make repeated consulting trips on a new mine reclamation plan for the quarry? An outside expert verifying Hunt Martin’s non-compliance with the existing plan would seem a justified expense, but county officials spent thousands of taxpayer dollars essentially to help Hunt Martin, with no reason to expect the corporation would then comply with its own plan.

Often when politicians support a corporation in ways that negatively affect citizens, the justification is added jobs and revenue. But, in this case, such benefits have not been claimed.

The Kansas City Star reported that County Commission Chairwoman Annabeth Surbaugh “characterized Hunt Martin as a ‘5-ton truck with no manners’ that in the past had lied to neighbors. But legally, she said, her hands were tied and she could do nothing but support the application.” So a company can flout the law for years and elected officials claim they must do as the lawbreakers wish?!

Outraged citizens have fought the quarry for fifteen years while more than 125 acres of beautiful rolling hills, forested areas and creek valleys have been destroyed. And now the new permit allows the barren quarry pit, with its 100 foot shear cliff, to expand by another 179 acres.

The neighbors in this previously bucolic area cannot block the noise of blasting and rock crushing. They must tolerate the incessant dust and heavy truck traffic.

And the neighbors must live with the knowledge that Hunt Martin, after years of showing contempt for county regulations, has more power to influence “democratically” elected county commissioners than the citizens do. Democracy is, indeed, in jeopardy.

Mary Lindsay is a clinical social worker in private practice in Prairie Village, KS.  She is the president of the Kansas City area chapter of (