Archive for Thursday, October 7, 2004

Feds, TOTO announce agreement

October 7, 2004

In announcing settlement of a lawsuit it filed against the federal government four years ago, a local citizens' watchdog group vowed to stay vigilant as another plan to redevelop the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant moves forward.

At a press conference Friday at the downtown Kansas City, Mo., law office of William Session, Taxpayers Offering Tomorrow's Opportunities released details of a settlement in a lawsuit it filed four years ago when it was known as Taxpayers Opposed To Oz -- and when Oz Entertainment Co.'s plan to redevelopment Sunflower looked eminent.

In the settlement, the U.S. General Services Administration agrees to revisit its 2000 environmental assessment for Sunflower if Johnson County's 1998 Community in a Park conceptual land use plan for Sunflower is amended.

Although neither side could declare victory in a settlement, Session and TOTO representatives said they got everything they wanted from the settlement.

"This lawsuit was started because the government wasn't following its own rules," Session said. "We got exactly what we set out to get. This lawsuit wasn't about the redevelopment of Sunflower. If it was going to happen, it needed to be done in the right way."

TOTO President Micheline Burger said the settlement proved "you can fight city hall."

"They thought they could get away with not doing what they have to do," she said. "They found out otherwise."

The settlement also requires the U.S. General Services Administration to pay the $50,000 in legal bills TOTO has racked up in the litigation.

Among the points then-Session firm attorney and current TOTO member Andrew Bailey challenged in a 49-page brief filed four years ago in the Kansas City, Kan., U.S. District Court challenged were:

  • The 1999 environmental assessment that was the GSA's basis for determining that Sunflower could be transferred with no significant environmental impact was incomplete and relied on flawed data.
  • The GSA failed to catalog Sunflower's historic sites and plan for their protection as required by federal law.
  • Failed to adequately address the environmental consequences of an undertaking as significant of the Wonderful Wold of Oz theme park.

The last point became a non-factor with the demise of Oz in October 2001.

Soon after the lawsuit was filed, the GSA conceded the proper historical assessment hadn't been completed. Blaine Hastings, the GSA's lead negotiator for Sunflower, said work to identify historic sites continued and that the process was at a point a transfer could occur.

Moreover, one year ago the GSA announced it would start work on a supplement to the 1999 environmental assessment. Among the reasons were the length of time since the original assessment, changing environmental conditions because of ongoing cleanup, and the better understanding of environmental conditions at the plant. Hastings said the supplement was now complete.

Burger said the government had addressed TOTO's points with the further work on the historical and environmental assessments. But she added the settlement could require more from the federal government in the future.

In the settlement, the GSA agreed to again supplement the environmental assessment should Johnson County's land use plan be amended. Burger said that was inevitable because the 1999 environmental assessment "dovetailed" the theme park with the county's master plan.

Further assuring the need for revisiting the environmental assessment was the Johnson County Commission's decision to revisit the master plan and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' demand that a "significant portion" of Sunflower be developed as a life-science research park, Burger said.

From his conversations with the county, Hastings said he doubted anything was being considered that would trigger revisiting the environmental assessment.

"Unless something major happens, I don't see us doing any more environmental assessments or supplements," he said. "Our environmental assessment covered a pretty broad range of what could happen out there."

TOTO would keep a watchful eye on developments at Sunflower, Burger said. The organization did not forego the right to again challenge the government if it did not follow procedures established by law.

Among other concerns proposed were a lack of "specificity" ensuring public benefit transfers under proposed federal legislation allowing the direct transfer of Sunflower to a developer selected by Johnson County and Kessinger/Hunter's announced plans to take on elements of the plant's environmental remediation heretofore reserved for the Army, Burger said.

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