Feds offer De Soto license to continue operating Sunflower water plant
The federal government will give De Soto a license to continue operating the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant's water treatment facility when the city's lease is terminated this fall, a federal official assured the De Soto City Council last Thursday.
The same official assured the council the city should eventually get title to the water plant, but added the timing of that transfer is dependent on resolution of Oz Entertainment Co.'s redevelopment plan for Sunflower and a lawsuit that proposal has produced.
Blaine Hastings, the realty officer with the U.S. General Services Administration heading the Sunflower transfer, attempted to guide the council through the complexities of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant's transfer last Thursday. His presentation focused on the city's interest in Sunflower's water treatment plant it has leased and operated for three years. He also addressed the future of the rail spur that served Sunflower and now provides rail service to Rehrig-Pacific Co. and Sealright.
Hastings told the council that all Sunflower leases, including the city's lease for the water treatment plant, would be terminated at the end of federal fiscal year Sept. 30.
The leases are actually with Allliant Techsystems Inc., which will end its long tenure as Sunflower's civilian contractor on that date. Hastings said Alliant's replacement will be asked to provide security, minor maintenance and other limited services.
But, Hastings said, the federal government is working on a licensing agreement with the city that would allow De Soto to continue operating the water plant.
A license will give the city fewer rights to make modifications to the property than its current lease, Hastings said. The license in no way commits the federal government to turn over the water plant to De Soto and it can be terminated at anytime, Hastings said.
Soon after Sept. 30, the Army plans to shut down Sunflower's internal power grid, Hastings said. Western Resources will service the Army's limited needs via a new power line, he said.
The new power line will terminate near the entry guardhouses, about a mile from the water plant, Hastings said. The city can build or adapt the existing power grid to its needs, he said.
City Administrator Gerald Cooper said the city is exploring the second option. No cost estimate has yet been developed, he said.
Water produced at Sunflower supplies the Army's operations at the plant, other Sunflower leaseholders and Clearview City. The water plant will become more important to De Soto in four to five weeks with the completion of a water line that will connect it to the city's distribution system.
The agreement Oz negotiated with the GSA would require the company to transfer the water plant to De Soto, Hastings said. The Oz redevelopment plan for Sunflower has been mired before the Johnson County Commission for a year. After deadlocking on the proposal twice, the commission will vote on the Oz redevelopment plan for the third time later this year.
The redevelopment plan or other components of the transfer must also be approved by Kansas Development Finance Authority, Gov. Bill Graves and the U.S. Congress before the transfer to Oz can occur.
Another complication is Taxpayers Opposed To Oz Inc.'s federal lawsuit challenging the procedures the GSA has taken to preserve historic sites, Hastings said.
Should Oz's redevelopment proposal fail to win approval, the transfer of the Sunflower water plant to De Soto would become more complicated, Hastings said. The GSA would then dispose of Sunflower piecemeal, Hastings said.
Profits from the sale of environmentally clean land would be used to clean remaining property, he said. The pace of Sunflower's remediation, including the cleanup of property needed for waterline easements, will be determined by annual federal appropriations, he said.
Public benefit transfers, including the county's request for parkland and the De Soto school district's request for future school sites, would be sponsored by various federal agencies.
Under that scenario, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would sponsor the water plant's public benefit transfer to De Soto and that could delay the transfer, Hastings said. The water plant is not thought to have environmental issues, but Health and Human Services has been "very adamant" that it would not be involved in any such transfer until the property is certified as environmentally clean, he said.
The GSA handled Sunflower's water rights separate from the property, Hastings said.
After negotiations, the federal government agreed to transfer the water rights associated with the wells to De Soto. Johnson County Water District No. 1 would receive the surface water rights from the Kansas River.
The water rights number for the well field is 38, while the surface water has a number of 37. Theoretically, these low numbers would provide high priority for water access during droughts.
The federal government's view is that it can negotiate the transfer of the water rights because it acquired them after a 20-year vestment period, Hastings said.
The state of Kansas takes a different view, Hastings acknowledged. The state's position, reinforced through a 1999 bill passed by the Kansas Legislature, is that the water rights would revert to the state once Sunflower is no longer federal property. The Kansas Water Office has said it would challenge any transfer of Sunflower water rights it didn't negotiate, Hastings said.
Margaret Fast, planning manager with the Kansas Water Office, said Monday that as the regulating body, the state has the authority to assign water rights.
Although the federal government disagrees, Hastings said it wouldn't defend its position in a promised lawsuit by the Kansas Water Office, Hastings said.
That would leave De Soto as the only defendant. To avoid legal action, City Attorney Patrick Reavey said he would ask the Kansas Attorney General's office to rule on the vestment issue.
The city would likely get water rights to the wells regardless. De Soto applied for new water rights for the Sunflower well field earlier this year, Brungardt said. No other jurisdiction made a competing application for the water rights, which would have a higher number if granted.
Although water rights with the low number seem desirable, the numbers are largely meaningless, Fast said. Should De Soto acquire water rights to the Sunflower wells, it would be required to join the Kansas River Water Assurance District.
Assurance district membership comes with $7000 annual fee. Fast said that fee purchases water stored in upstream reservoirs.
Water assurance district members are allowed unadministrated water use until available water in upstream reservoirs is exhausted, Fast said. Computer models show it would take a drought twice as severe as one in the 1950s, the worst on record, to affect De Soto's right to pump from the wells, she said.
Hastings also addressed the Corps of Engineers rail spur that connects Sunflower to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. The spur, which serves Sealright and Rehrig-Pacific in the industrial park, is also considered surplus property, he said.
But unlike Sunflower, the railroad can't be part of a public benefit transfer and must be sold, Hastings said. That can't happen until the TOTO lawsuit is resolved, he said.
A future agreement would have the city purchase the line, Reavey said. A price has not been developed. Sealright has agreed to compensate the city for the purchase price and all maintenance on the spur, he said.