Elected officials sworn into office

Recently elected Bourbon County officials were sworn into office by District Judge Mark Ward Monday, as some return for new terms and others begin to serve for the first time.

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“This is one of two rare occasions for a district judge that is a joyful occasion,” Ward said, saying that situation and adoptions can be the only occasions people exit the courtroom feeling like winners.

Officials sworn in included Sheriff Bill Martin, register of deeds Lora Holdridge, treasurer Rhonda Dunn, attorney Justin Meeks, clerk Kendell Mason and commissioners Nick Ruhl and Jeff Fischer.

“Do you solemnly swear that you will support the constitution of the United States of America and the constitution of the state of Kansas?” Ward asked each official, going on to ask if they would faithfully discharge the duties of their specific office.

Chamber of Commerce begins the New Year

The Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce kicked off the New Year by hosting the weekly Chamber Coffee event Thursday morning, using the opportunity to introduce new and returning board members and give a picture of the year’s goals.

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Deb Needleman is the 2017 president of the chamber’s board of directors, beginning the third and final year of her current term on the board, which has 15 members from different businesses and organizations around Fort Scott. There are also six full and part-time employees of the chamber.

The board has three divisions, including downtown, tourism and business resource and development, which also is involved with legislative affairs.

The board held a strategic planning meeting in November, when Needleman said they considered “vision for what they wanted to do this year.”

Some programs and events which will be held once again under the business resource and development division include the LEAD Bourbon County program, which will run from August through the following May; an entrepreneurial book club that meets Monday evenings; and a legislative update to be held during the current session.

The local visioning committee also decided to hand off the workforce development aspect of their committee to the business division of the chamber, who will work with the city and Fort Scott Community College to host events such  as Manufacturing Day.

The downtown division will continue to organize events such as the Good Ol’ Days, Christmas and Halloween parades. They will also be a resource for the city concerning developing and preserving the downtown structures.

The tourism division went through some changes from previous years, starting a roundtable group to discuss ideas with those interested in promoting the area.

“Good things are going on there,” Needleman said of the marketing and packages offered to out-of-town visitors, which may include a wine stroll this year. “We do have a lot of things to offer now—a lot of diverse, different things that do attract people.”

Both Needleman and Executive Director Lindsay Madison emphasized the importance of the chamber members, whose membership fees, sponsorships and involvement help keep the chamber active.

“We don’t take that for granted,” Madison said, saying their Chamber Coffees, for example, are some of the best attended ones in Southeast Kansas.

Currently, the chamber includes about 380 members, who are able to become booster level members according to their level of financial support. Other businesses and individuals interested in becoming involved are encouraged to do so.

“You do not necessarily have to be on the board to be involved,” Madison said, saying chamber events are open to individuals and they welcome involvement and ideas for the community.

Coleman recognized on Commissioners’ last day

Thursday morning, Third District Commissioner Harold Coleman was recognized by the Bourbon County Sheriff’s Office for his 35 years of service to the county, both in the sheriff’s office and on the county commission.

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“I present this plaque to you, Harold Coleman, in appreciation for your many years of dedicated service to the community of Bourbon County,” Sheriff Bill Martin said during a brief, surprise ceremony during the final county commission meeting before the new commissioners are sworn in.

For three years, Coleman held the position of undersheriff before becoming the sheriff in 1984. After 24 years as sheriff, he then served as a county commissioner for eight years.

“That’s a lot of years of service,” outgoing commission chairperson Barbara Albright said, while Coleman said it could be considered a lifetime.

“It’s been an experience that I think any man would probably cherish forever,” Coleman said, adding that, while the responsibilities as a commission are not always enjoyable or easy as they face decisions that impact the entire county, he will miss the people.

Albright also reflected on her terms as commissioner, as both Coleman and Albright visited the different departments of the county to say farewell to other county employees.

“It’s been great,” Albright said. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot in four years and I feel like I’ve contributed to our community and county.”

Coleman described the position as a rollercoaster ride, but both he and Albright said they were glad to do the best they could.

“That’s all we can do, is come in where things are and leave things as good as they are or better,” Albright said. “That’s our mission.”

Nick Ruhl and Jeff Fischer will be sworn in Monday at noon as they begin their terms as first and second district commissioners respectively.

Fort Scott to consider new development

Fort Scott residents spoke for and against further development south of town during a Fort Scott Planning Commission meeting Tuesday evening, expressing concern that their quality of life could be negatively affected.

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Greg Fess gave presentations concerning two potential developments in areas near the Industrial Park. One for a vet clinic required a zoning change from agricultural to industrial while the second, a dirt bike track, needed a change from agricultural to commercial with a conditional us permit.

A number of residents spoke favorably of the Great West Vet Clinic that would like to open its doors by the beginning of the summer, offering care for both small and large animals. Not only would the clinic bring care such as surgeries, examinations and vaccines for animals, but it will also be only the second Cogent Breeding, Ltd., lab in the United States, bringing the study of bovine in vitro fertilization to the area from its United Kingdom base.

Concerns raised by the audience included the risk of disease, the elimination of waste and removal of deceased animals. Fess said the clinic would hold high standards of cleanliness and will have its own underground septic tank.

Residents spoke in favor of having such a clinic that would provide a local option for veterinary care for larger animals such as horses and cattle, instead of traveling outside of the city and even the state for such services.

“I currently travel hours to get to a specialized vet for our horses,” resident Nicki Traul said. “To keep that money local would be extremely important to our family…To have this in our own backyard would be a huge benefit to our community.”

But while the audience leaned in favor of the vet clinic to potentially be located south of the Kansas Department of Transportation building, residents were divided in their opinion of a dirt track being built on a piece of land near the Jayhawk and Liberty Bell Road intersection.

Fess said their plans are to put in a tiller track for dirt bike races, which would be hosted approximately three Saturdays a month except for a winter break. Fess said they hope the events would draw in as many as 200-300 racers, which would benefit the city of Fort Scott as those visitors stay in hotels and eat at local restaurants.

“We want to make it fun for kids as well as adults,” Fess said, saying they would build the track into the terrain, making corners and using rolling hills without building steep jumps that would be too difficult for younger riders.

Fess said they are aware of a number of concerns raised by the public and said they have taken strides to address those. Woodchips and specific products would be used to prevent as much dust as possible, since Fess said even the riders do not want to race on a track that raises a lot of dust. Mufflers will be required on the bikes and, though Fess said they realize that will not cut down all the noise, he said he believes the terrain itself, including the hills and the trees, will help block some of the noise.

Fess pointed out the noise of a dirt bike is comparable to that of the train which travels through Fort Scott regularly, and some traffic sounds are also just as loud. While they plan to have races regularly, Fess said they do not intend for them to continue into the evening hours, but only race during the day and limit any practice racing during the week.

Some residents attending the meeting said they believe the noise will diminish the quality of life in that area and could even prevent other businesses from wanting to come to town. Individuals who live close to the area in question especially said the noise would likely be difficult to live with because of the noise of numerous bikes as well as the crowd echoing through the valley.

“I think there’s a good reason why tracks are in the country,” Paul Brock spoke up, saying he does not believe it should be that close to the city because of the sound and bad air quality it might bring.

Other residents said features like the dirt track will help bring entertainment and visitors to Fort Scott, which is needed to help grow the community. Steve Buerge pointed out the community once complained about the sale barn being too loud as well, but said it brings large numbers of visitors from out of town and out of state as well as large amounts of dollars through the county.

“Industry is give and take,” Buerge said, saying both parties in such a business agreement have to make sacrifices in order to gain the benefits.

The advisory board approved recommending the zoning changes south of town for the Fort Scott City Commission, but said that approval is not based on their own personal opinion, but on the legality of rezoning the area. The commission will discuss the decision during their meeting Tuesday evening, January 17.

Fort Scott benefits from local trout release

Beginning in the fall of 2016, the city of Fort Scott and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism partnered to release trout into Fern Lake at Gunn Park, providing a unique opportunity for anglers.

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“This is something that benefits all age groups, because we see people from children to seniors out there fishing and enjoying Gunn Park,” said Jessica Schenkel of the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce. “The Park is one of Fort Scott’s greatest assets, so having the lake being stocked with trout is icing on the cake.”

Mound City District Fisheries Biologist Don George said each fall the Kansas Department of Wildlife stocks the lakes in his district with channel catfish, but in the winter months bring in trout, which is a more rare opportunity.

“Trout are really a special fishing opportunity,” George said, explaining they survive and are active in cold water when other fish are dormant.

While fishing is allowed in Kansas all year round, trout season only runs from November 1 through April 15, and a special permit is required. The money received for those permits regulates the purchase of the fish to be released in the lakes, not taxpayers’ dollars.

“Anglers pay for what they get,” George said.

Trout will be released in the east lake at Gunn Park every two weeks through March, which George said will allow anglers to find more success in winter fishing.

“It was a very neat experience to watch and help the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism release trout into the lake in Gunn Park,” Schenkel said of her recent participation in the event.