City of Lawrence seeking consultant to create new plan for Farmland contamination

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

The city is seeking help to solve the growing problem posed by the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant in eastern Lawrence.

The city is responsible for remediating decades of nitrogen fertilizer spills that contaminated the groundwater, and it is seeking a contract with professional consultants to come up with new methods to deal with the contamination.

Brandon McGuire, assistant to the city manager, said the city began considering a consultant-led study when the nitrogen-water distribution and storage methods currently in place became insufficient. He said the goal is to come up with a plan that is environmentally and financially sustainable.

“The city committed to stewardship of this property into perpetuity, so we’ve got the one option right now, which is land application,” McGuire said. “… And we have limited funding, especially if you’re thinking on a potentially 30-year or more timeline.”

The city’s ongoing efforts to distribute the nitrogen-contaminated water by pipeline to farms, where it can be applied as fertilizer, became insufficient after the number of nearby farms decreased. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment recently authorized the city to release up to 30 million gallons of nitrogen water into the Kansas River. The temporary nitrogen water releases, which must adhere to certain concentration requirements, came about because storage tanks on the Farmland site are at capacity.

Bids for the consulting contract are due next month, and members of city staff are meeting with potential firms Thursday afternoon to discuss the contract. McGuire said the meeting is to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the situation. If approved by the City Commission, he said the hope is for the study to take 12 months or fewer.

“The goal (Thursday), through this process, is to make sure that the money that we spend on a consultant contract really does get us what we need and what we want,” McGuire said. “And that the consultants have what they need to avoid confusion and delay in working through the contract once we get going with it.”

McGuire said the city is also working with the University of Kansas School of Engineering and the Center for Research. He said KU is helping the city with the consultant selection process as well as looking at potential treatment processes and methodology for remediating the nitrogen contamination.

The city took ownership of the former fertilizer plant in 2010 with the plan of using part of the 467-acre site for a new business park, VenturePark. The city paid nothing for the property, but accepted responsibility for cleaning up environmental issues left behind by the bankrupt fertilizer plant. The city received an $8.6 million trust fund that Farmland had set aside for cleanup.

McGuire said the trust is now about $4.5 million and won’t be enough to sustain what is likely to be decades of remediation. He said the long-term remediation plan could include new water treatment processes or development of infrastructure, but that the City Commission will ultimately decide how to proceed and how much money to spend.

Bids for consulting services are due Dec. 19. A contract for the consultant-led Farmland study will likely go in front of the City Commission for consideration in March.