Letter to the Editor: What Happens After the Power Plant Closes?

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The commentary by Michael Wagar dated May 4 and titled “TransAlta Reneging on Promise” referring to the push and tug about what is to be done with this property (industrial versus WDFW) brings back memories of where I grew up.

In World War II, Pratt Kansas had a B29 base and a “large” hospital for recovering wounded airmen. At the end of the war, the government closed the base, and after taking what they wanted, they then handed the gate “key” to the city telling them it's yours.

The base had four giant hangers, each of which could hold two B29s with the doors closed; along with all the office buildings, warehouses, etc. needed to operate such a base. This was on the west side of U.S. Highway 281. On the east side of the highway was a hospital complex with all its office buildings, warehouses, etc. needed for it to operate.

What should be done with the base? At this point the push and tug began between the farmers who lived in town and controlled the town council and the “others.”

Located 85 miles east of Pratt is Wichita, Kansas, where Boeing, Cessna, Beechcraft and Lear Jet aircraft manufacturers are located, along with many of the light industrial companies needed to support them.

What did Pratt have to offer? At the end of the war, Pratt had a population of around 12,000 and a transportation system consisting of two major cross-country highways, U.S. 281 and U.S. 54, and two railroads, the Rock Island and the Santa Fe. Add to this the power and water needed to operate a large base and hospital complex and you have the ingredients needed for industrial opportunity.

In the ensuing years of arguing about what to do with it, the town slowly sold all the buildings for scrap. In the end, the farmers won: they turned the base into a very big cattle feedlot.

In 1972 my mother wrote to me that the 1970 census showed the population had grown back to just over 6,700, having shrunk to around 5,500 because there were no jobs to keep people around!

What do we have to offer? A rail spur into the Big Hanaford Valley, power, water, an interstate highway and a labor force. Will we allow this to go the way my home town went?

 

Bill Scarbrough

Centralia

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