Archive for Thursday, July 18, 2002

Shawnee participation need not make lawsuit inevitable

July 18, 2002

There seems to be something akin to Newton's Third Law of Motion at work at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. Any positive news about the closed plant is greeted with an equal measure of bad.

The latest example is the lawsuit by the Shawnee Indian Tribe that followed on the heels of the public announcement the state would review an early transfer proposal from Kessinger/Hunter & Co. of Kansas City, Mo., and Cherokee Investment Partners of Raleigh, N.C. The developers have indicated a willingness to buy the plant for the price of its environmental remediation. They have $51 million set aside for that effort they claim they would complete within 10 years.

It is a bit of a stretch to characterize the Shawnee action as bad news. Too little is known about the tribe's prospects or its intentions to make that judgment.

Fears of a casino might be overblown. Any transfer to the Shawnee can come with land-use restrictions, as did a large transfer of Badger Army Ammunition Plant property near Baraboo, Wisc., to the Ho-Chunk Tribe.

It is clear, however, that there is a very good chance the Bureau of Indian Affairs will approve the public benefit transfer of at least some part of Sunflower to the Shawnee when it rules on the tribe's application next month. Furthermore, a letter from the U.S. General Services Administration to the tribe acknowledges the BIA's authority in the matter.

It was in that atmosphere the GSA's project manager for Sunflower, Blaine Hastings, arranged a meeting of all the interested parties. Hastings was blunt about the meeting's purpose. GSA officials hoped early discussion would help avoid future lawsuits and further delay Sunflower's transfer.

There is reason for optimism. Should the Army be compelled to make a large public benefit transfer of Sunflower land to the Shawnee, it would have little motivation to follow up with promised environmental remediation. It is unlikely the Shawnee have the resources to accomplish the developers' goal of cleaning the plant upfront.

The developers might also welcome the presence of the Shawnee. If they serve as a middleman in public benefit transfers, they earn a large tax break. Whether this makes their proposal viable, we can't say. It's likely the developers won't know until the BIA makes its finding.

It is our hope the talks can avoid a lawsuit so that we can soon see progress at Sunflower. We'll take activity over inertia anytime.

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