Lawrence City Commission to consider spending another $208,000 to study Farmland fertilizer plant ahead of multimillion-dollar cleanup

photo by: City of Lawrence

A portion of the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant is seen in this City of Lawrence photo.

As part of Lawrence’s yearslong effort to clean up nitrogen spills at the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant, city leaders will soon discuss spending another $208,000 to further analyze the spread of the contaminants and develop a new remediation plan for the site.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider authorizing a second addition to its contract with GHD Services Inc., which the city hired in 2018 to come up with the new plan after the original method proved insufficient. If approved, the additional work would cost another $207,974, bringing the total cost of the study to about $582,000, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

Once the study is complete, the new remediation plan must ultimately be approved by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and is expected to have a multimillion-dollar price tag. As the Journal-World reported in August, early findings from GHD’s analysis of the site estimated that cleaning up the nitrogen and other environmental contaminants in the soil and groundwater could cost more than $40 million over the long term. For the next five years, the city plans to spend another $13.5 million toward remediation of the site, according to the memo, though those allocations will need to be approved annually as part of the city’s budget process.

The city hired GHD in April 2018 to complete an analysis of the Farmland site and come up with at least five contingency remediation plans, each with a cost-benefit analysis, to deal with the contamination at the site. The study was previously expanded in March 2019 because GHD said it did not have the information it needed about how deeply and broadly the contaminants — namely nitrate, ammonia and nitrite — had spread through the groundwater and soil on the site. The first expansion of the study was about $143,000, according to past memos to the City Commission.

If approved by the commission, the additional $208,000 for the study will pay for adding more wells to measure contaminants in the groundwater, which city staff says in the memo will be critical in coming up with a new cleanup plan. More specifically, the additional work includes the design and installation of additional monitoring and containment wells, sampling of those wells, pumping tests, and a remediation alternatives workshop, according to the memo.

GHD has already completed a cost-benefit analysis report of different cleanup options, and the memo states that the next steps will be to evaluate the remediation options, which might include pilot testing of one or more options. Future steps will include the development of a remediation design plan and a remediation action plan. GHD and the city plan to involve stakeholders and the community as those plans are developed.

The city debated the deal to take over the former plant for more than five years and eventually took ownership in 2010, under former City Manager David Corliss, with the plan of using part of the 467-acre site for its new business park, now known as VenturePark. 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 sludge and wastewater that contaminated the soil, groundwater and surface water.

Too much nitrogen in the water — a form of nutrient pollution — can cause large algae blooms that harm water quality and decrease the amount of oxygen in the water, which harms fish and other aquatic animals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. High levels of nitrates in drinking water can also be harmful to humans, especially infants.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday with limited staff in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually if they are able to do so. A link to register for the Zoom meeting and directions to submit written public comment are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website,


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