By MIKE CORN
It's been 10 months now and ITC Great Plains -- authorized to build a massive electric transmission line -- still hasn't said how it plans to mitigate damage to two lesser prairie chicken leks in Rush County.
ITC corporate spokesman Joe Kirik, however, said something should be announced by the end of next week.
"We definitely have some progress in the works," he said. "It's really coming together."
The mitigation effort first surfaced shortly before public hearings on the proposed route took place. That's when KDWP learned the line would essentially go right between two prairie chicken leks south of Nekoma in Rush County.
The grassland birds are especially sensitive to tall objects, even trees, because they see them as roosts for raptors and avoid the area.
Larned birder Scott Seltman, who owns land near the Nekoma flock, expressed confidence that the line would doom the birds.
"It's probably the second highest tourist stop behind the barbed wire museum, and nobody knows anything about it," he said of the number of birdwatchers who visit the site to watch the birds' elaborate mating habits.
While Kirik said progress is being made, he wouldn't divulge any details. He even declined to say if ITC, a Michigan-based company, has an agreement in principle with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
"I'm not authorized to talk about it until it's in place," he said.
In fact, nobody can, Kirik claimed.
"That's the problem," he said. "It has to go through me."
Before it can be discussed, Kirik said, all of the details have to be in place before KDWP can approve it.
KDWP declined comment on details of the project but agreed that a decision is near.
While ITC Great Plains, the Kansas subsidiary of the Michigan firm, has been authorized to build a 345,000-volt power line from Spearville to Hays, the Kansas Corporation Commission said it needed to continue working with KDWP to resolve issues with the leks -- breeding grounds for lesser prairie chickens.
ITC has met informally with the KCC, a spkeswoman said.
For comparison, the KCC only had 120 days to grant a license to construct the line.
ITC has since filed a request to build the second phase of the line, stretching from Hays to the Nebraska border.
It is meeting some resistance from landowners and has not said if it will install bird diverters on the line even though it crosses the migration route of the highly endangered whooping crane.
While lesser prairie chickens are not yet on the federal endangered species list, they are teetering on the edge, a step away from being listed.
KDWP currently is considering adding the bird to its list of endangered species, a request that was made by the Kansas Ornithological Society and six Audubon groups in the state. A series of meetings on that proposed listing was conducted this week.
Kansas has the greatest share of lesser prairie chickens, perhaps as many as half of the birds in existence today.