City misses deadline to submit new Farmland cleanup plan, but making ‘good-faith effort’

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

The City of Lawrence has missed a deadline to submit a new cleanup plan for the former Farmland plant, though efforts are underway to address issues with the contaminated site.

The city’s deadline for coming up with a new plan to deal with an excess of nitrogen-contaminated groundwater collected from the former nitrogen fertilizer plant was Feb. 1. Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials told the Journal-World Monday that although they had not yet received the plan, the city is making progress.

“The City has complied with all other conditions for the remediation water release,” KDHE spokesman Jerry Kratochvil said in an email. “At this time the City of Lawrence is making a good-faith effort to develop their plan and they are in the process of hiring a consulting firm to develop and finalize such a plan.”

KDHE authorized the city to release up to 30 million gallons of nitrogen-contaminated water into the Kansas River from November to April after the city’s water storage and disposal system became insufficient. One of the conditions of that authorization was that the city submit a new plan, “thereby assuring this situation does not reoccur.” The authorization also requires the city to monitor the level of ammonia, nitrate and nitrite to ensure they are diluted to safe levels.

Kratochvil said the April 1 deadline for ceasing release of the water into the river is final. He said the city must stop on that date whether there is a future plan in place or not.

The city decided in November to hire a consultant to come up with a new long-term remediation plan for the site, but bids for that contract are still under review, according to the city’s website. The city’s utilities director, Dave Wagner, said that the city is currently soliciting the services of a consultant and that work on the plan will be ongoing through the bulk of the year.

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 plant. The city received an $8.6 million trust fund that Farmland had set aside for cleanup. Originally, the city thought that trust fund — and the interest it would generate — would be enough to clean up the property. But the city now believes the trust fund won’t be enough and has acknowledged it overestimated how much interest the fund would earn.