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Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Offer emerges for Farmland

National company seeks to clean up plant east of city

June 14, 2006

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A large national firm that specializes in cleaning up environmentally-blighted properties soon will offer to buy the vacant Farmland Industries fertilizer plant east of Lawrence.

TRC Companies Inc.'s only plans so far are to clean up the effects of years of nitrogen spills that have scared off developers from purchasing the property for about five years.

But once the environmental cloud is removed from the 467-acre property - which is just west of the East Hills Business Park - city leaders believe the property will be poised for redevelopment.

"It is a nicely situated piece of property," said Tim Daugherty, a former Farmland employee who is helping Windsor, Conn.-based TRC facilitate the deal. "It is a gateway to the city. There's a lot of interest from the city, the county and the other stakeholders in how to make that property useful to the economy again.

"With that interest and energy, you will see something positive happen, if you do it the right way."

The fertilizer plant closed in 2001 after it became embroiled in the bankruptcy of Kansas City, Mo.-based Farmland Industries.

TRC officials aren't yet proposing a specific use - such as industrial, commercial or residential development - for the property. Instead, officials said they would first focus on the cleanup and then worry about how the property could be redeveloped.

The former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant east of Lawrence is now a desolate, rusted wasteland. A private company specializing in environmental remediation wants to purchase the land and clean it up, paving the way for redevelopment.

The former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant east of Lawrence is now a desolate, rusted wasteland. A private company specializing in environmental remediation wants to purchase the land and clean it up, paving the way for redevelopment.

"We've met with some city and county stakeholders, and they have some very specific ideas about what they would like to see go onto the site," said David Miller, a senior program manager with TRC. "We're confident that an end use can be found that is agreeable to all parties."

Exploring a purchase

City and county commissioners for several years also have been exploring the possible purchase of the site. They've said they strongly prefer the entire property be used for an industrial park and open space.

Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones said he is cautiously optimistic about TRC's interest in the property as long as the company understands the community thinks it is only appropriate for industrial use, not housing or other types of development.

"I don't think there is even a millimeter of flex in this being anything other than industrial," Jones said.

Jones also said he wanted to make sure that a thorough review of the company was done to ensure that it had the proper experience and financial capability to adequately tackle the project.

The company - which is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange - has been in the financial news lately. In May, the company announced that it would not meet a deadline to file its annual report. That followed an announcement in February when the company said it would have to restate some of its earnings for 2001 through 2004 related to its environmental cleanup operations.

Miller said that the delay resulted from an audit that required the company to change how it accounts for certain revenues but that it was not expected to result in a net loss for the company. He said the company would provide all the necessary financial assurances - such as surety bonds or other mechanisms - to ensure that the money is available to clean up the site.

"We're confident in representing to everyone that we're financially sound," Miller said.

Company's track record

The former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant east of Lawrence is now a desolate, rusted wasteland. A private company specializing in environmental remediation wants to purchase the land and clean it up, paving the way for redevelopment.

The former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant east of Lawrence is now a desolate, rusted wasteland. A private company specializing in environmental remediation wants to purchase the land and clean it up, paving the way for redevelopment.

Miller pointed to the company's track record of cleaning up properties. He said the company has cleaned up about $430 million in environmental liabilities at about 90 different sites.

Some of its more high profile projects have included a $100 million cleanup of a former power plant in midtown Manhattan in New York that is being redeveloped into a $1 billion commercial and residential center. The company also touts a 30-acre redevelopment of a former manufacturing plant in Kenosha, Wis., that is in the process of being turned into a commercial and retail development.

Jones said he's counting on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to review the company's qualifications. KDHE will be involved in the process because it oversees an approximately $7 million escrow account that Farmland Industries was required to create before it dissolved to help pay for environmental issues at the site. The department also is the chief regulatory agency responsible for monitoring the cleanup of the plant.

Mike Heideman, a spokesman with KDHE, said the department will have the company answer several questions about its financial wherewithal.

"You know, my general thought is that we need to see that property go back to work," Jones said. "If the private sector is willing to do the heavy lifting on it, that would be great. But right now there probably are more questions than answers."

Public-private partnership?

One question is whether a private developer would be able to turn the property into an industrial park without help from the public sector. Jones said he anticipated the city and county would have to consider entering a public-private partnership to facilitate the property being used as an industrial park.

Farmland Industries

"The economics of an industrial park are very, very tough for the private sector," Jones said.

Miller declined to comment on a price that TRC was willing to offer for the property. Because the site is part of a bankruptcy proceeding, any sale would involve a public auction overseen by the bankruptcy court. But the auction does not begin until someone steps forward to make an offer.

TRC has not yet made an offer but has been granted an exclusive period to make an offer by the FI Liquidating Trust, which oversees the remaining Farmland assets. Miller said TRC intends to make an official offer in the "near term."

Miller did not give a specific timeline for how long it would take to clean the property. But he said some cleanup and development could happen simultaneously.

Comments

LogicMan 8 years, 7 months ago

At first glance, this is very good news. Hopefully that eyesore property can be cleaned up and made productive again soon. Can they do the old Furr's too?

old_man 8 years, 7 months ago

Yea, right. 20 years from now that land will still be an eyesore. Who would be foolish enough to build on that site with the fact that the lawsuits will be forthcoming the first time anyone gets sick that sets foot there!

superduper 8 years, 7 months ago

For everyone's information...A recycling company has been pulling a lot of stuff out of that place for the last year. Both cooling towers are gone. The biggest tanks are gone as well as the water tower. I've really noticed a big change in the skyline when driving to Lawrence.

moveforward 8 years, 7 months ago

I noticed the change in the skyline as well. I wondered if the worth or scrap metal exceeded the worth of the property as well (given the liability for clean up.) Whatever happened to the plans for development. Was that a case of our favorite eager developer getting the cart before the horse (as he does so often?)

ASBESTOS 8 years, 7 months ago

COOLING TOWERS!!!!

I hope they tested for HEX Chrome while they cut up thoses messeds. BIG Problem there, maybe we could get Erin Brocovich to come back and do a little Hex Chrome lawsuit here to protect the fine folks of Lawrence.

Beauty queens suck at apologies!

assistant1234 8 years, 7 months ago

According to the EPA docs I could find on the internet, the groundwater on the site is contaminated with nitrogen, and a few years ago asbestos was removed. No other contaminents were found.

I hope they clean that site up soon as I have to see it every day driving to and from work. And I hate it that when I bring guests to my house from the KCI airport that that eyesore is the first thing they see in Lawrence.

LogicMan 8 years, 7 months ago

Dang ... nobody took the bait on Furr's ("no hazardous materials there"). I would have replied "you must not have eaten there". :-)

If the only measureable contaminant is nitrogen, and the other new uses don't pan-out, then returning it to farmland or pasture for ~20 years might be a good, better looking use. The pumped groundwater, if not too voluminous, could be used directly on the site to eliminate the new tanks and long-distance piping.

ASBESTOS 8 years, 7 months ago

NOt all the asbestos was removed, jsut enough to allow the removal of some of the mechanical equiment. The problem is the caustics and Hexavalent Chromium in the ground water.

Remember...KDHE supervised the asbestos removal at the time, hoep they did a lot better job than with the PRESTO tanks.

Think of it in TRC's point of view, they could come here and hoodwink the KDHE folks ANDS on the outside chance anything went wrong...well the fine might be in the $5000 range. For 467 acres, would you pay thr fine for the "cleanup" that was never done???

Several things wrong here:

  1. "TRC officials aren't yet proposing a specific use - such as industrial, commercial or residential development - for the property. Instead, officials said they would first focus on the cleanup and then worry about how the property could be redeveloped."

Brownfields double speak. What they mean is they have no intention of cleaning it up to stringent levels and will threaten to pull out of the deal before there is even a deal if they don't get their way. They want waviers and the money, not the hassel or the cost or effort of cleaning it up.

  1. "That followed an announcement in February when the company said it would have to restate some of its earnings for 2001 through 2004 related to its environmental cleanup operations."

Haven't we learned from the "enron like problems" yet. This is promises and sweet nothings, to treat TRC as a salvation is not supported. Hire a local environmental consultant and contractor and clean the damn property up. We do not need dollars going out of state again. HIRE LOCAL ENVIRONMENTAL COMPANIES!!!!

  1. " He said the company has cleaned up about $430 million in environmental liabilities at about 90 different sites."

OK you cleaned up the "liabilities" but did TRC really cleanup the actual comtamination or just "pencil whipp" some permits and documents??

ASBESTOS 8 years, 7 months ago

  1. "KDHE will be involved in the process because it oversees an approximately $7 million escrow account that Farmland Industries was required to create before it dissolved to help pay for environmental issues at the site. The department also is the chief regulatory agency responsible for monitoring the cleanup of the plant."

We didn't learn form the Presto situation did we. KDHE can and is compromised when it comes to cleanup costs. They stated the Presto cleanup would not exceed $300,000 in an earlier article, but Ronnie H. stated ad to day KDHE spent $500,000 on the Presto cleanup. The Farmland site cleanup will be orders of magnitude more difficult than a simple UST cleanup. Can we really trust KDHE??

  1. IN the previous article TRC stated they would cleanup and develope at the same time. Again, NO DEAL. We could get half way through and they could cut and run. They must clean up the entire site THEN develop. We are going to see the same problems with concurrent cleanup/development at SFAAP.

THis is out there, and is ill conceived. It the land is worth cleaning up, then by all means clean it up, but don't expect to get waviers and money to make it happen. SEND TRC PACKING and HIRE SOME LOCAL ENVIRONMENTAL BUSINESS TO DO THIS AND CREAT HIGH PAYING JOBS THAT WAY!!!

That is after all the whole concept of "returning to use" these environmentally impacted areas.

Topside 8 years, 7 months ago

All the asbesots was removed, but not several years ago. Abatement was taking place up until about 3 months ago. If any asbestos remained it would have been on things like tanks or boilers that would have been moved to another site.

moveforward 8 years, 7 months ago

When I drove by about 9AM yesterday there was a group of a dozen or so folks gathered with blue vests, hard hats and packs. I could not make out what was printed in white on the vests. Likely the crew doing a property inspection.

Emily Hadley 8 years, 7 months ago

If only the money for the land purchase would go to the Farmland employees who were let go, just before the bankruptcy, losing benefits and pensions after decades of service.

ASBESTOS 8 years, 7 months ago

ALl the asbestos has NOT been removed. There is a helluva a lot more than 8500 square feet of thermal insulation and 16,100 ft of pipe insulation. THere is thousands of square feet of sprayed on fireproofing, transite panels, floor tile, sheet vinyl, and textured walls and ceilings. To say nothing about the mounds of YES BURIED VERMICULITE THAT PROBABLY CAME FROM LIBBY MONTANNA!!!

We forfot about the vermiculite didn't we 2-28% tremolite asbestos and BAD stuff, but KDHE asbestos section has their head up their um....

ASBESTOS 8 years, 7 months ago

We are still not talking muich about the hex chrome in the ground and the groundwater. That stuff is NOT CHEAP to remove and OSHA has just passed a hex chrome standard.....that means it is more bucks for employee protection.

The hex chrome was used as a corrosion inhibitor in the cooling towers and for the heat exchangers. There is toms of it in the old pits, and some braggging large company waving around all the "possibilities" is not serious until they start addressing the expensive environmental cleanup AND talking about the hex chrome.

Anyone else is just blowing smoke and doesn't have a clue about what they are talking about.

ASBESTOS 8 years, 7 months ago

They may be able to hoodwink this past KDHE, however I will turn this into the OSHA federalies if this goes through. The risk to the workers is just too great!

ASBESTOS 8 years, 7 months ago

This sounds like an alt rock band name

"The Lawrence Hexavalent Chrome Cancer Cluster"

Appearing just off Hiway-10

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