Burn program tops Sunflower to-do work list
Plant transfer official Friday
Columns of smoke will again be familiar sights above the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant following its official transfer to a private developer late last week.
"Everything was filed as of record last Friday," said Kise Randall, executive director of Sunflower Redevelopment LLC, a partnership of Kessinger/Hunter and Co. of Kansas City, Mo., and International Risk Group of Denver.
Everything in this case was federal and the Army documents approving the transfer to Sunflower Redevelopment. Their completion came a week after Gov. Kathleen Sebelius agreed to sign state documents needed in the transfer.
With the transfer finished, the focus will shift to the environmental remediation of the plant polluted from the production of rocket propellant that started during World War II and continuing off and on until the plant was shut down for the last time in 1992.
Generally, the cleanup can be divided into three parts. Two involve environmental remediation -- the continued cleanup of contaminated soil and the so-called explosive remediation involving the burning of structures possibly containing nitroglycerin.
A third component is the razing and removal of structures and obsolete infrastructure not thought to be explosive.
In general, the cleanup would go from north to south and from the plant's outside to inside with the explosive remediation given priority, Randall said.
"What that amounts to is that the land designated for public conveyance is not left until last," she said.
In the late 1990s and early years of this decade, smoke could be seen rising above Sunflower as the Army burned hundreds of structures potentially contaminated with explosives. Under the transfer agreement, the Army will provide money for the explosive cleanup of the hundreds that remain.
Burning to resume soon
The agreement also calls for Sunflower Redevelopment to administer the explosive cleanup and for that work to start within 60 days.
"Our schedule calls for that," said Mikkel Anderson, chief technical officer for International Risk Group. "It is our intent to be on site preparing for that activity within 60 days.
"That's the most noticeable situation for residents -- the resumption of required consumption of buildings potentially contaminated with propellant."
Anderson said the work Sunflower Redevelopment would do "shouldn't look radically different" from the Army's earlier burn effort. The same techniques would be used, and three Army employees, including Sunflower civilian commander Tony Spaar, would remain on-site to oversee the work.
The reason for giving the explosive cleanup priority is that the Army enforces exclusionary zones around the structures thought to be explosive, Anderson said. With the plant dotted with such zones, it restricts Sunflower Redevelopment's ability to do other cleanup work.
Once the explosive cleanup is completed in 2008, Sunflower Redevelopment can aggressively attack the remaining cleanup components, Anderson said.
An exception is the plant's bordering areas, Anderson said. Because the Army concentrated its burn efforts there, there will be more freedom to address other parts of the cleanup, he said. Also, those areas contain much of the public benefit transfer property, he said.
Cleanup planning is taking priority over creation of a development plan for the plant, Randall said. From the start, Sunflower Redevelopment said it would develop the plant in accordance with the county's 1998 Community in a Park land use plan, which calls for a mix of single-family home subdivisions, multi-family housing, commercial development, limited light industrial development and a research park.
Johnson County Commissioner Chairwoman Annabeth Surbaugh said the county wouldn't have much to do until Sunflower Redevelopment produced its development plan. But sometime after the county budget was approved this month, the county commission would appoint the Sunflower Redevelopment Board and various committees that will report to it, she said.
The redevelopment board, too, would not have much to do until after the development plan was presented, Surbaugh said, but its members would have time to get educated on the issues and their duties on what she characterized as a "super zoning board."
Although the county didn't get all it wanted, the transfer agreement assured De Soto, De Soto USD 232, the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District, Kansas State University and Kansas University that they would get the property they sought and get it cleaned even if the developer went "belly up," she said.
"It's a heck of good deal," she said. "If the county was going to improve the property and doing what Kessinger/Hunter is doing, we would have to raise the mill levy 10 mills.
"I don't want us to be on the line with taxpayers' dollars. I think it really has a high risk, and the risk should be borne by the developer."
The county's master plan and Sunflower Redevelopment development plan would have to be adjusted to account for the added land given Kansas University, Surbaugh said.
The Sunflower Redevelopment agreement transferred 300 acres of Sunflower property to Kansas University to augment the 200 adjacent acres the university owns. In addition, Sunflower Redevelopment agreed to wrap the property donated to the university with 250 acres on which development would be limited to bioscience research and commercial ventures.
KU sees potential
Kansas University Provost David Shulenburger said the property has great potential but university officials needed more information from Sunflower Redevelopment before planning the property's future.
"We'll probably put some university research facilities there and related commercial activity," he said. "No one has a really firm timetable of when the remediation will be complete. We need to see a timetable. It makes a difference if it's three or 10 years."
Moreover, university officials need to coordinate its plans with the Sunflower Redevelopment's development plan or more specifically the timing and location of streets, waterlines and sewers, Shulenburger said. That was true even of the 200 acres Kansas University owned before the transfer, he said.
"A comprehensive plan needs to be done before we can make that attractive to lots of clients," he said.
On the positive side, the 2004 Kansas Economic Growth Act makes $500 million available over the next nine years for bioscience research and commercial ventures, Shulenburger said. Should a bioscience district be created at Sunflower, tax money from new jobs, property improvements and retail sales could be used to finance infrastructure improvements and research and commercial development.
"Sunflower Redevelopment attorney (John) Petersen has talked about forming a district," Shulenburger said. "The university would be interested in that also."
However, that would be a step into "virgin ground" because the state board established to regulate the bioscience initiative has not approved the creation of such a district, Shulenburger said.
Much more will be known about the timetable for cleanup when the transfer documents are posted on the Internet. Blaine Hastings, the U.S. General Services Administration point man in the transfer, said the documents were still being proofed and made consistent for posting.