Archive for Thursday, April 6, 2000

Group files lawsuit against government

Suit to force environmental impact study of Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant

April 6, 2000

Taxpayers Opposed to Oz Inc. (TOTO) has taken legal action that could put a snag in plans by the Oz Entertainment Co. to build the Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park and Resort at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant near DeSoto.

Bill Sheldon, TOTO president, announced last week his organization filed suit in federal court against the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). Through the lawsuit, TOTO is asking a federal judge to force the GSA to do an environmental impact study before releasing the land to a private company.

Oz Entertainment officials are currently negotiating a deal with GSA to transfer the ammunition plant to them in exchange for their commitment to clean up the solid waste contaminants on the property.

TOTO officials, represented by The Sessions Law Firm of Kansas City, Mo., contend the GSA has not done a proper study to determine what contaminants exist at the plant and what effect development of the land would have on the environment. The GSA released an environmental assessment of the property early this year, stating there would be no significant environmental impact if the plant were transferred and subsequently developed. GSA officials said no environmental impact study was needed prior to a transfer.

TOTO attorneys said the government agency was negligent in its duties by not doing a more extensive study. Attorney William Sessions said the environmental assessment done by the government was inadequate and not within compliance of the law.

"The federal government failed to follow their own regulations," Sessions said. "There are laws people have to follow and they were not followed here."

Andrew Bailey, also of the Sessions Law Firm, was more specific.

"There are 54 (solid waste contamination) sites at Sunflower where the extent of contamination is unknown," he said. "No one knows how the development of the land would affect the quality of human environment."

Sheldon said the lawsuit had nothing to do with the Oz project, but added he wouldn't mind if it forced the theme park developers to look elsewhere.

"Our intent is to see the process is handled correctly," he said. "If Oz falls under its own weight, that's all right too."

If the lawsuit is successful, the environmental impact study could last up to a year, Bailey said. Sheldon said he knew a long delay could cause a problem for Oz.

"I presume it could make it difficult for them," he said.

The suit also claims the GSA did not adequately study the historical significance of the 9,065-acre plant. Parts of the Oregon Trail and California Trail pass through the southwest corner of the property, Bailey said. The GSA has ignored the historical significance of the trails and failed to identify and protect historic properties as required in the National Historic Preservation Act, the lawsuit contends.

Sheldon said government officials are ignoring their own rules for the benefit of the Oz Entertainment Co.

"GSA is illegally pushing this transfer through to accommodate Oz's development schedule, leaving the public to guess about whether contamination at the site will be adequately cleaned up," Sheldon said.

The GSA has 60 days to respond to the suit.

If the federal judge rules in favor of TOTO, the court would block any transfer of the land until an environmental study and historic assessment are completed.

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