DE SOTO, Kan. (AP) — Five years after federal funding dried for up environmental cleanup at the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in Johnson County, Kansas, the U.S. Army has announced it will resume removing pollutants so the land can be redeveloped.
While that comes as good news for Kansas and Johnson County officials, it’s tempered by a timeline that says it could be 2028 or beyond before the site is ready for the first house, shop or office to be built on the 9,000-plus acres near De Soto.
“That’s a long time, based upon everything that has gone on before,” said Ed Eilert, chairman of the Johnson County Board of Commissioners, after hearing about the timeline. “Too long.”
The property, considered to be the largest single tract of potentially developable land in the Kansas City metropolitan area, is key to growth along the Kansas 10 corridor linking Johnson County with Lawrence, The Kansas City Star reported.
The cleanup was supposed to have been finished three years ago, according to the private developer that in 2005 bought the land where defense workers once produced gunpowder for artillery shells in World War II and rocket propellants during Vietnam. The plant shut down in the early 1990s.
The 2028 target might be a conservative one for finishing cleanup because the Army has refused to accept responsibility for removing asbestos in buildings and pesticides in the soil around their foundations.
The Army insists the current property owner, Sunflower Redevelopment LLC, is responsible for that work, but the developer says that’s unfair and the Army should pay some of those costs, too.
“We’re not looking for a free ride here,” said Sunflower Redevelopment’s attorney, John Petersen at the Polsinelli law firm.
If the Army doesn’t budge on that issue, Petersen said his client might have to walk away without finishing the project.
The Pentagon said its environmental and disposal liabilities totaled $58.6 billion at the end of the 2014 fiscal year, but only about $4 billion of that work was funded.
In 1998, Johnson County commissioners approved a conceptual plan for the decommissioned ammunition plant that they saw as a rare chance to plan a model community. Then-Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius endorsed that vision when she announced the sale to Sunflower Redevelopment seven years later.
Sunflower Redevelopment aimed to finish cleanup within seven years, administering a $109 million federal contract that would pay for the work.
The job wasn’t close to being finished when the federal money ran out in 2010.
By the end of that year, Sunflower Redevelopment had hauled 787,657 tons of contaminated dirt to the Johnson County Landfill — some 34,000 truckloads — and it was not even half done.
The Army and Sunflower had originally estimated 612,621 tons for the total.
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