Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2001

Shawnees make request for Sunflower property

September 27, 2001

The newly federally recognized Shawnee Tribe has made a claim for the closed Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Greg Pitcher, a member of the tribe's business committee, said the tribe has requested the U.S. secretary of interior transfer Sunflower into a trust for the tribe.

"When the federal government surpluses property that was once part of a tribe's old reservation, the tribe can request the property," he said.

In the mid-19th century, the Shawnee were given a reservation that included vast territory in eastern Kansas, including Johnson County. The land was taken from the tribe, and most of its members relocated to Oklahoma. The decimated tribe eventually merged with the Cherokees. Last year's recognition restore the tribe to the status it enjoyed before that merger, Pitcher said.

The recognition date came after the federal government concluded the public benefit application process for Sunflower. Oz Entertainment Co.'s proposed redevelopment plan actually involves the public benefit transfer of the plant to the state of Kansas.

Blaine Hastings, the U.S. General Services Administration official handling the transfer, said Monday the Shawnee Tribe's application would have precedence over the states. But, he added it came too late.

"They had their shot and they weren't there to shoot," he said. "I've spoken to the tribe. At this time, they realize they have no course of action."

That won't change in the future, Hastings said.

"If the county turns down Oz, there are no plans to go back and re-screen for applications," he said.

Pitcher agreed the tribe missed its first opportunity, but he said the tribe still has hope.

"We think the secretary of interior can request the land be transferred into a trust of the tribe," he said. "She could do that if she wanted to; that doesn't mean she will."

The tribe hasn't discussed possible litigation should its request be ignored, Pitcher said. At the present time, is is more interested in working with the state, county, Oz and other possible developers.

"We think we could be a good partner," Pitcher said. "It could be done better with our help."

The tribe doesn't have any plans for Sunflower's redevelopment, Pitcher said.

Johnson County Commission Chairman Doug Wood said news that the Shawnee Tribe is requesting Sunflower is a concern. Should the tribe gain title to Sunflower, the county would lose its ability to oversee its development through zoning and regulations, he said. It could also open up the property to something that would be less popular than the Oz theme park, he said.

"Anyone who believes they wouldn't ultimately develop a casino would believe in the benevolence of Oz. I don't believe in either," he said.

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