Archive for Thursday, August 14, 2003

De Soto taking new approach on water plant

August 14, 2003

De Soto officials are taking a more hard-line approach in their efforts to secure title to the water plant at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
The city has leased the Sunflower water plant since 1998 and has plans for $4.7 million worth of upgrades to the World War II era facility once it has clear title to the plant. But securing ownership has proved to be an ordeal because the federal government has insisted public benefit transfers like that of delivering the water plant to the city occur after an agreement is reached to transfer the entire plant.
The city is now demanding the process be reversed or, at least, iron-clad assurances be made guaranteeing the city ownership of the water plant if the federal government and other interested parties want De Soto to continue to operate the facility. Mayor Dave Anderson credited City Administrator Greg Johnson with the new approach.
"One thing Greg has done is get us focused," Anderson said. "We have always labored under the misconception that things are imminent. His words are 'It's a crisis. We need to do something now.'"
Contributing to the new attitude was a proposal offering the city a viable alternative to the Sunflower water plant, Anderson said. Johnson County Water District No. 1 has indicated it could supply De Soto with water at the cost of a $4.2 million or $4.45 million buy into its system. The large water utility, known simply as Water One, supplies Lenexa, Shawnee, Overland Park and the other smaller communities of northeast Johnson County.
The city has informed Blaine Hastings, the U.S. General Service Administration project director for the Sunflower transfer, that it had resolution to end the impasse at the Sunflower water plant, Anderson said.
Rep. Dennis Moore has lent a hand in the effort. Moore wrote a letter to Hastings, encouraging him to expedite the water plant's transfer. Moore followed up with a phone call to Hastings. The GSA official said the government was willing to transfer the water plant to De Soto. That process required certification the water plant's property wasn't polluted and a survey, which the city has done, for clearance from the courts to go ahead with the water plant's transfer.
Moore said Hastings indicated the process would take about 30 days, a schedule the congressman and city officials view with skepticism, particularly because of the unresolved lawsuits involving the Shawnee Tribe and Taxpayers Offering Tomorrow's Opportunities Inc.
If nothing develops, Moore said he would support federal legislation similar to that guaranteeing the transfer of 2,000 acres of Sunflower to Johnson County Parks and Recreation. He said the city should enlist Sen. Pat Roberts or Sen. Sam Brownback if it wanted to pursue that option.
Anderson said he would have an opportunity this week to learn where parties involved in the future of Sunflower stood on the transfer of water plant. De Soto, Johnson County, state, federal and Kessinger/Hunter and Co. representatives are to meet this week at Sunflower to discuss closed plant's status with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' signing last month of a preliminary finding of suitability of early transfer.
But, the Water One proposal was more than just leverage to get action on the Sunflower water plant, Anderson said. It forced the City Council to consider its commitment to the city getting in the water business. Future improvements at the Sunflower water plant would only be affordable to city rate payers if water is sold to other jurisdictions. If the Council decided it wanted to go that route, De Soto would have to market water to Johnson County customers and/or an anticipated -- but still non-existent -- cooperative of cities and water districts to the southwest, he said.
A successful marketing effort would require a business plan and a quality product, Anderson said.
The Council will learn more of the Water One proposal when a representative from the utility attends a meeting next month.

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