BY CORIE LYNN
Last Thursday, the Hays City Commission held their first meeting since the second city-wide mask mandate extension.
Though a divisive topic in previous meetings and across the community, neither citizens nor commissioners broached the subject of masks or the mandate during the meeting.
Near the close of the meeting, however, Vice Mayor Sandy Jacobs did comment on the general response to the COVID-19 pandemic by Hays citizens.
“It seems to me that we have a really positive attitude throughout the community,” Jacobs said. “I have been in various parts of the community. I have not had a lot of negativity the last couple weeks, which is really appreciated.”
The evening’s discussion instead centered on a report from Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty regarding the progress of the R9 Ranch project.
This project, approved by the Hays City Commission in 2014, is a sustainable water project that will develop wells on a piece of land and cost $80 million upon completion.
“The state determined they wanted to impose sustainable yield on cities of Hays and Russell, and we did a modeling of the property to determine the long-term sustainable yield,” Dougherty said.
While there are no wells on the land at present, the city is taking the time to get the grass growing at the location as healthy as possible and waiting for a judicial review from Edwards County.
According to Dougherty, WaterPACK opposed the state’s original order for water sustainability.
“What that means is that they have petitioned a judge to review the order because, in their determination, the state did not follow the necessary rules, regulations and statutes to get to the order. It’s not about the content of the order. It’s about the process to get to the order,” he said.
In addition to this review, irrigators in an area near the R9 land have been shut off as they are impairing water flowing to the Quivira Wildlife Refuge.
While the R9 is not affected by this impairment nor is it contributing to it, the dispute has resulted in the Groundwater Management District becoming involved to broker a solution to the problem.
The situation also raises concerns about water rights and unequal application of the law in the area, which, Dougherty explained, concerns Hays as the GMD reduced the city’s water rights by 30% though a 15%reduction is enough to remedy impairment.
“I know Hays and Russell have gone above and beyond what they’re legally required to do, and we expect everybody else to adhere to those same requirements,” he said.
The R9 project itself, however, remains a necessity for the nearby communities because of the western plains’ tendency for drought. When the project was approved in 2014, it was in response to drought and with the hope of alleviating water needs during the next one.
“I want to make sure the city commissioners understand that this has been a lengthy process,” Dougherty said. “It will continue to be a lengthy process, but we need to make sure we get it done as quick as possible because we know another drought’s coming.”
In addition to hearing the R9 report, the city commissioners approved consent agenda items, including placing a new member on the Hays Convention and Visitors Guild Advisory Board.
The other items approved were the 2020 Uniform Public Offense Code and Standard Traffic Ordinances, both of which were presented by Hays Deputy Chief of Police Brian Dawson
These codes and ordinances are updated to comply with state codes. One notable change was the addition of the Violations of Public Health Order, a section added in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“This section makes it a Class C misdemeanor to violate, refuse, or fail to comply with a written order from the Country Health Department,” Dawson said.
Before concluding the meeting, the commissioners took the time to express their excitement for the groundbreaking of the ARC Park that took place the following day. They applauded the community effort to raise thousands to bring an accessible park to Hays.
“I could see the park or I could see a little piece of it, but the project, it’s going to be amazing for our community,” Jacobs said. “It’s not only a quality of life issue, it’s going to impact communities around us that are going to bring kids here. It will be an economic impact […] in our community as well.”