City to increase incentives for manufacturing plant after massive amounts of buried trash found on construction site

photo by: Contributed

Enough trash to fill five Olympic-sized swimming pools was uncovered at the construction site for the U.S. Engineering Metalworks plant at VenturePark.

City leaders have increased the economic incentives for a new manufacturing plant by about $700,000 to help cover the cleanup of massive amounts of buried trash discovered on the construction site, which is within the city’s business park.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to authorize an increase in the 10-year property tax abatement for the U.S. Engineering Metalworks plant that will help offset the estimated $1.5 million cleanup cost. The plant will eventually bring 140 jobs to the city, and commissioners agreed it was important to provide the financial support needed to make sure the project was able to proceed.

“It’s really important for our community to be successful, that we can actually get things like this done in spite of the things that come and get in the way,” Commissioner Stuart Boley said.

The commission originally approved incentives for the plant in 2019. After some modifications to the original incentives agreement as well as delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, construction began in January of this year. But the developer soon discovered solid waste buried in multiple areas on the site, which is located in Lawrence VenturePark. According to a U.S. Engineering cost summary, about 16,000 cubic yards of buried debris were discovered on the site — enough to fill about five Olympic-sized swimming pools — and must be removed and replaced with dirt for construction to continue.

The 10-year property tax abatement will increase from up to 70% to up to 90%, adding approximately $700,000 to the value of the incentives package for a total value of about $4 million. Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard told the commission that the state of Kansas had also agreed to increase its support of the project by approximately $500,000. Stoddard said U.S. Engineering would be paying the up-front cleanup costs, and that the additional support would eventually help offset those costs.

Mayor Brad Finkeldei said that if the property weren’t being provided to U.S. Engineering as part of the incentives package, it would still belong to the city and it would be the city’s responsibility to pay for the cleanup if it wanted to market the property. Finkeldei said he appreciated the support of the state and the cooperation of U.S. Engineering to get the project to the finish line.

The city previously approved an approximately $3.2 million incentives package for the project, which includes the property tax abatement, a sales tax exemption for construction materials and the provision of free land in VenturePark. The incentives were applied for under the city’s Catalyst Program, a fast-track incentives program meant to spur development in the park. Companies must take responsibility for special assessments on the land as part of the agreement.

The site was once part of the Farmland Industries fertilizer plant, and Stoddard previously told the Journal-World that the trash was placed on the site decades ago when the plant was operational. Stoddard said U.S. Engineering anticipates construction being completed in late 2021 or early 2022.


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