Archive for Wednesday, March 12, 2008

City mulls plant action

Staff directed to work on new bid for former Farmland site

March 12, 2008


City leaders hope to submit bid for vacant fertilizer plant

City Commissioners are open to taking more risks when it comes to buying the former Farmland Industries Fertilizer Plant. Enlarge video

City commissioners are ready to rattle the dice - if not yet quite ready to roll them - on purchasing the environmentally contaminated Farmland Industries site.

A majority of commissioners said they're willing to strongly consider assuming the legal liability to clean up the property, if that is what it takes to gets plans moving to convert the eyesore into a new business park.

"I want to see us move forward," Mayor Sue Hack said. "We have a serious need for industrial land, and it gives us an opportunity to control a gateway to the community."

Since July, city commissioners have said they want to purchase the 467-acre site east of Lawrence on Kansas Highway 10 from the bankruptcy trust that currently controls the property. But commissioners previously have said they did not want to take on any legal liability to clean up the site. Instead, they wanted the bankruptcy trust to maintain the legal liability to clean up the site.

But within the past week, regulators with the Kansas Department of Environment have expressed concerns about the city's plan. John Mitchell, the interim director of environment for KDHE, said having the city take over the cleanup would be better than leaving it up to the private trust, which is not obligated to continue cleaning the property once the $5.2 million trust fund is depleted.

Commissioners did not formally agree to change the city's bid to the bankruptcy court to accept responsibility for the cleanup. But commissioners did direct staff members to do the necessary legwork so that they could submit a new bid in the future.

Hidden concerns

Mitchell - who also is a Lawrence school board member - said he thinks it is likely that the property can be cleaned up with the remaining $5.2 million in the trust fund. But he told commissioners at Tuesday evening's meeting that he couldn't guarantee it.

"We can't give you the assurance that you would like," Mitchell said. "Something else could be uncovered. It is an industrial site that operated before there was much in the way of environmental regulation. You can never be certain about those sorts of sites."

But Mitchell did try to assure commissioners that the type of known contamination at the site is very manageable. He said the main environmental issue is groundwater and soil that is contaminated with nitrates. The nitrates - basically crop-grade fertilizer - aren't harmful to the touch but can cause problems if ingested. Specifically, it can cause "blue baby syndrome" in infants, which can lead to death.

Mitchell, though, said a current set of pumps, wells and stormwater collection ponds on the property are doing a good job containing the contamination and slowly abating it. He also said the site has a built-in disposal system for the millions of gallons of water that the pumps suck from the ground. The fertilizer-laced water currently is pumped to North Lawrence, where several farmers use it to irrigate crops.

But the risks of a new environmental liability being found became evident in the last few months. In December, a buried landfill of several acres was found on the site. KDHE regulators said it likely will not need to be cleaned up, but rather agreements will have to be made that the site can not be disturbed.

City Manager David Corliss said it is those type of incidents that worry him about accepting liability for the site.

"I'm worried about finding any more hidden jewels and having a contingency for that," Corliss said.

Other business

In other news, commissioners:

¢ approved plans to seek a new study on the timing of a proposed $88 million sewage treatment plant on a 3-1 vote. Commissioner Mike Amyx voted against, with Commissioner Mike Dever absent.

¢ approved the 2008 Street Maintenance Program.


Godot 10 years, 3 months ago

This is a very serious situation. The commissioners are failing in their fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Lawrence by taking on this unknown risk.
The article did not spell out who voted for and who voted against the purchase. I'd sure like to know.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 3 months ago

Based on current demand 467 acres plus sites at East Hills should provide Lawrence with all that is necessary for the next 25-30 years.

If my memory serves me well it was the Chamber of Commerce that decided this area needs 1000 acres just laying around waiting in case a customer shows up.

Farmland was dumped in the community's lap more or less which is all too common place. One sufficient reason not to bring any more chemical plants to Lawrence, Kansas.

Baille 10 years, 3 months ago

Marion got it right. Make it into a park.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 3 months ago

"And anyone buying there would probably buy in Love Canal too." Lois Gibbs may be watching...

Godot 10 years, 3 months ago

Charles Jones has already decided that this purchase will be made via property taxes. No voter approval needed for that.

Just think about the expense for the next thirty years. The pumping system that is there now, pumping that water out to North Lawrence, must already be old; look out for the tax increase that will be dumped on property owners when that system needs to be replaced (and there will not be an option as to whether to replace it, it will be required).

And that "several acre" landfill (trash dump)?? They don't know what is in it? Well, what do you think that plant was burying out there for the last few decades? Whatever it is, I'll bet it is not biodegradeable.

This is awful. The city and county must not put this on Douglas County taxpayers. Not even the Fed .gov would take this on.

This must be stopped.

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