Archive for Thursday, November 15, 2007

Take a stand: Project poses flooding risk

November 15, 2007


"Floods are 'acts of God.' But flood losses are largely acts of man."

- Gilbert F. White, geographer, 1942

These damning words (pardon the pun) are a timely reminder that we are sometimes victims of our own audacity. We build because we can, not because we should. Such is the case with the proposed Airport Business Park barreling its way down the economic development pipeline.

The specter of building an industrial park on floodprone land around the airport north of Lawrence has the look of a miniature New Orleans in the making. Back in 1942, Gilbert F. White, the "father of floodplain management," warned that building dams, levees and other flood protections actually INCREASE flood losses by making development on floodplain possible. Confident levees will be high enough, dams strong enough, pumps large enough, and Mother Nature tame enough, we cross our fingers and build. Just ask the folks in New Orleans how that turned out!

This "levee effect" phenomenon - building where we shouldn't - is not only fiscally imprudent but dangerous, bringing development pressure to an area better left alone. North Lawrence is already due $16 million worth of flood projects BEFORE any development to the north gets under way. The North Lawrence Drainage Study, a quarter-million-dollar professional engineering study commissioned by the city estimates it will cost another $25 million to keep North Lawrence's 3,000 residents safe and dry should full-scale development of the watershed north of North Lawrence proceed.

Cited as "key" to North Lawrence flood protection is raising Highway 24-40 to act as a new levee and pairing it with a new massive pumping station to force water where it doesn't want to go. The new levee and pump will be in addition to a system of levees and pumps already in place. A few years down the road, then, the fully developed Airport Business Park would complete the very picture Gilbert White warned us not to paint: building in a bathtub. But right now, right here in River City, we're just a City Commission vote away from taking the plunge.

Assured by city staff that flooding won't be a problem (based on 25-year-old FEMA floodplain maps; new ones will be done in spring 2008), without a cost-benefit analysis or industrial site comparison study (i.e. farmland vs. Farmland), with no idea what this project will cost the public or where we'll get the money, with no consideration of future phases, and with significant public opposition - but two enthusiastic thumbs-up from the Chamber of Commerce - our planning commissioners voted 5-2 to move the project forward. Three commissioners did not vote.

City and county funds are expected to pay for infrastructure to make the Airport Business Park possible. County Commissioner Charles Jones asked what he called "the threshold question" at a joint meeting of county and city commissioners: "What is the total cost to us?" Good question. No answer.

With phased public costs yet unknown, financial terms still a mystery, and the list of unanswered questions growing longer by the day, one might think the project would slow down. But the Airport Business Park seems to have a life of its own propelled by a Chamber of Commerce that supports the goal to quickly add 1,000 new acres to Lawrence's industrial inventory. (Interestingly, the Airport Business Park's plan does not even meet the Chamber's goal of large lots of 100+ acres. Most of the lots in this project are three to five acres. The largest is 20 acres.)

Why must we go this way? Are our city leaders in such an economic development panic that they push a project forward without benefit of reasonable information like new FEMA floodplain maps, a timely cost-benefit analysis, industrial site comparison studies, consideration of future phases, or even proper consideration of long-term public costs and financing? Are we not supposed to do our "comprehensive planning" comprehensively?

Everyone should be concerned about the Airport Business Park and the decision-making process that propels this private enterprise toward public money. And, in case you're tempted to mind your own business, this is not just a North Lawrence concern. Too easily labeled a "not in my backyard" issue, any private development requiring generous public funds causes it to land squarely in the backyard of every taxpaying citizen - yours included.

The threshold question remains. How much is this going to cost us, really?

Nancy Thellman lives with her family on a small hay and cattle farm in northeast Douglas County.


Oracle_of_Rhode 10 years, 5 months ago

Let's focus on fixing our roads, making our schools better, maintaining a vibrant and sustainable community. Business will come. We don't need more sweetheart back room deals, over-development, destruction of useful land and tax giveaways.

And building in a flood plain is stupid.

Jackson 10 years, 5 months ago

Nancy Thellman is correct.

Remember 1951 - the Kaw was 5 miles wide, and this area was under 12' of water.

Remember 1993? A couple more inches of rain would have topped the levees and De ja vu!

Murphy's law - "If it can happen, it will".

Voter approval needed for this potential fiasco.

Julie Jacob 10 years, 5 months ago

Copied from my E-updates email....

Cost estimates for Airport Business Park released

(LAWRENCE, Ks) The City has released the preliminary cost estimates for the extension of necessary infrastructure to the proposed Airport Business Park development. The staff memo and related estimates have been posted online at .

City staff has been working over the past several weeks to develop cost estimates. Our next step is the release of this information to allow for public review and comment, said City Manager David Corliss. The City Commission will consider a number of important policy issues regarding this proposal. I encourage public comments and questions about the information. Citizens can e-mail or call me.

Cost estimates include sewer and water, $1,873,200; stormwater, $385,050; streets, a range of $912,000 to $6,082,000, depending on the construction phasing.

These infrastructure issues and the Planning Commission recommendation on annexation and rezoning requests for this project are scheduled for consideration at the December 4, 2007 City Commission meeting at 6:35p.m. at City Hall, 6 East Sixth Street.

City Manager David Corliss can be reached at or (785) 832-3400.


ChestnutCharlie 10 years, 5 months ago

Everything is topsy turvey. Notre Dame football is on the bottom, KU on top. Apple trees were barren all summer but blooming in September. Rebates are not abatements. City Commissioners apologize but will not rescind. Farm advocates become developers and realtors. The people who brought you the Tangier Mall tell you that vacancies are down. City engineers say there is no flooding problem yet require you to build on high fill. The developers who exacerbate the problem say they are the catalyst for the solution.

Ah, but the Chamber maintains we haven't got enough sites for businesses. At least there's consistency there.

snowWI 10 years, 5 months ago

"But the Airport Business Park seems to have a life of its own propelled by a Chamber of Commerce that supports the goal to quickly add 1,000 new acres to Lawrence's industrial inventory. "

That is unbelievable. The city wants to turn the most productive farmland in the state into an industrial wasteland. The taxpayers will not agree to pay for all these developments that are speculative in nature. There is good sensible economic development, and then there is foolish development on the floodplain.

snowWI 10 years, 5 months ago

Where in the world are 1,000 acres going to come from. With the airport project the acerage was reduced from the 900+ range to 144. The landowners did not want to sell land to the developer. The final cost estimate for this project is pretty spendy according to the information provided by jcstepmom28.

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