Archive for Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cleanup at former Farmland fertilizer plant may cost city millions more than expected

The former Farmland site is seen in this aerial photograph on Monday, July 1, 2013.

The former Farmland site is seen in this aerial photograph on Monday, July 1, 2013.

August 16, 2017


After taking ownership of the former Farmland fertilizer plant several years ago, the city of Lawrence has now found that the contamination cleanup will be more complicated and more costly than originally thought.

City Manager Tom Markus told city commissioners at their meeting Tuesday that the city is preparing to hire an outside contractor to help with the cleanup. At the same time, he said that the trust fund transferred to the city to pay for the remediation of nitrogen-contaminated groundwater is dwindling.

“We’re facing a lack of funding, planning and maybe some foresight to anticipate some of this stuff,” Markus said. “So it’s all coming to a head very quickly.”

The city took ownership of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant in 2010 with the plan of using part of the 467-acre site for its new business park. Although the city paid nothing for the property and received an $8.6 million trust fund to pay for the cleanup, it also accepted full responsibility for remediating decades of nitrogen fertilizer spills that contaminated the groundwater.

The site's water storage system is approaching capacity, and Markus said an outside contract — expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — is needed to truck nitrogen-contaminated groundwater elsewhere.

The cleanup was projected to cost at least $13 million. At the time, the city’s plan was to mitigate the costs with the land sales from what would come to be Lawrence VenturePark, interest generated from the trust fund, and savings from using city crews instead of contractors to run the water system.

Markus said it was originally projected that the trust fund would generate about $4 million in interest. He said those estimates were “extremely optimistic,” noting that in the time period where the trust was supposed to generate $1.3 million in interest, it only generated $150,000. Taken together, Markus said the trucking contact and unrealistic trust fund earnings make the remediation a big challenge for the city.

“So you have things going in two directions, right,” Markus said. “You have a very aggressive, expensive mitigation plan, and you have an overly optimistic revenue expectation on the trust fund that was transferred to us.”

The current balance of the trust fund is about $5 million, Markus said, and that amount will likely be insufficient to contain the polluted groundwater and remediate the nitrogen contamination as ordered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Commissioners mostly listened to the information presented by Markus, apart from Commissioner Matthew Herbert noting the interest projections were "a big miss" and asking how they could have been so off. Markus said that those projections were made in the era of the 2008 economic recession, around 2009, and that interest rates have remained low.

The trucking will be in addition to other efforts to distribute the nitrogen-contaminated water, which can be used to fertilize farm land. Markus said the city has been using a pipeline that runs from the site to the other side of the Kansas River to distribute millions of gallons of the nitrogen-contaminated water to farmers north of Lawrence. He said the problem is that improvements to the collection process mean the city is collecting more nitrogen-contaminated water while changes in land use mean there are fewer farmers using it.

As a result, Markus said the storage system is nearing its 22.5 million-gallon capacity. He said the city is going to recommend a contract next month to truck the excess water to farmers in the region. The city has a meeting with KDHE on Thursday, and Markus said he will provide more information to the commission as it is known.

“I’m trying to get this out there and let you know that this is a problem and that we’re going to have to take action and we’re going to have to take it swiftly,” Markus said.


Melinda Henderson 10 months, 1 week ago

Not surprised. I remember a presentation from years ago that indicated this was a bad idea for the city. Thanks, once again, Corliss et al.

Richard Heckler 10 months, 1 week ago

With such long tern contamination how can anyone expect a buyer to locate on that property?

Why should taxpayers be expected to fund new roads for this site?

After decades the other smart corridor still has vacancies = may as well be patient as buyers are not yet waiting in line.

David Holroyd 10 months, 1 week ago

Does Mr Markus have to have the approval of the commission to hire the trucking firm or is this yet another deal like hiring an outside auditor. If this is all it seems then the past commission wasnt that good. Wouldnt Dever had known about the problem?

Did Van Trust hire an engineer to investigate before they were scammed even with free l. So how much money does Markus want the taxpayers to cough up?

Samantha Martin 10 months, 1 week ago

KDHE nears final plan to clean up Farmland plant east of Lawrence $13M is estimated cost for removing pollutants at site November 25, 2009

“Anybody interested in purchasing the property will now know what our expectations are for cleaning up the property,” said Rick Bean, the KDHE section chief that is overseeing the cleanup plan.

But the plan also spells out what has long been thought — there are more clean-up costs than there is money set aside in a bankruptcy trust fund designed to pay for cleanup expenses.

The new report — called a Corrective Action Decision — estimates that total clean-up of the property will cost $13 million over a 30-year period.

Samantha Martin 10 months, 1 week ago

Environmental troubles won’t end even with redevelopment of site December 8, 2002

In 1995, KDHE ordered Farmland to install a $637,000 system that essentially pumps contaminated water out of the aquifer and into secure, leak-proof, on-site ponds. The pumping activity is designed to ensure the aquifer doesn't become so full that it begins to seep into the Kansas River.

But closure of the plant has created a problem for the plan. Farmland in the past was able to empty the ponds by using the water stored in them as part of its manufacturing process. Now that the plant is no longer producing, the ponds are beginning to fill up.

"The plan is working for now, but if the plant shutdown becomes permanent we may have to evaluate other alternatives," Limesand said.

Limesand said there probably were several feasible alternatives. One is that since the water is essentially diluted fertilizer, the water could be pumped from the ground and sold to farmers who want to use it on their crops.

"It actually may end up having an economic value to someone," Limesand said.

Samantha Martin 10 months, 1 week ago

City leaders to review site plans for former Farmland plant Funding to convert land to business park on the table August 15, 2011

Removal of old buildings and equipment at the Farmland site is expected to be completed by late August or early September. But cleanup of the groundwater contamination at the site is expected to take decades — although most of the work is overseeing pumps that remove the nitrogen-laced water, which is later used on farm fields.

Samantha Martin 10 months, 1 week ago

Trust fund shortfalls hinder progress October 4, 2009

About a year ago, KDHE revised upward its estimates for cleaning the property by about $7 million. The estimated costs are now $12 million to $15 million over 30 years. Currently, the two trusts have about $10.4 million in them. That’s a shortfall of at least $1.6 million.

But the shortfall may be actually much more than that. The $10.4 million is in two different trust funds. There is only $4.3 million in the remediation fund, which is money set aside to address the most serious environmental issues on the property. The remaining $6.1 million is in an administrative trust fund. Some of that administrative money — but not all — can be used to for cleanup-type purposes at the property.

Nick Naidenov 10 months, 1 week ago

Has the city taken up responsibility for Fukushima yet?

David Holroyd 10 months, 1 week ago

An administrative trust fund? What exactly does that do...explain how it is distributed and who got much is left?

Chad, can you deliver the details?

Also, who is checking on the roof on the Mausoleum and the revenue from the HERE parking meters..after all some money was to go toward "affordable housing". I am surprised that Stuart Boley isn't checking on this and has the details.....

Clara Westphal 10 months, 1 week ago

Wasn't Venture Park once the site of a company that made India ink? I remember returning to Lawrence in the '70's and shocked to see such a plant on the east edge of Lawrence.

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