Archive for Thursday, October 20, 2005

Talk of city fouled air at SFAAP event

October 20, 2005

The early morning "groundbreaking" last Thursday at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant was scheduled to serve as a metaphor for a new day dawning at the long-closed plant that will come with its transfer to the private sector. Speakers told the crowd they knew the hour and setting would provide an entrancing environment for the ceremony.

But nature isn't that subservient. Although the fall morning was as glorious as billed, when the wind was right, those in the crowd could detect a faint whiff of skunk.

So it was with the morning's speakers. For the most part, what was said was pleasing to the De Soto contingent in the crowd. But a stinker or two was mixed with the pleasant phrases.

Sunflower Redevelopment LLC, the plant's new owners, rightly tied the plant's future to its past, recognizing through a special invitation to plant workers from Sunflower's World War II heyday its importance to De Soto.

Attorney John Petersen, who continues to serve as a prominent spokesman for the development partners of Kessinger/Hunter and Co. and International Risk Group, said the company looked forward to a partnership with the city of De Soto for infrastructure needs in the "early stages" of redevelopment.

That should be welcome news to De Soto residents hooked to city sewer and water looking to share the cost of expensive upgrades. A new sewer plant is to be built next year, and the water plant the city received with the transfer of Sunflower is in need of millions of dollars of upgrades. Petersen's comments reflect the reality that for the near future, De Soto is the only entity positioned to provide wastewater service to the plant (water is more complicated).

It should also be welcome news to De Soto that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius tied the bioscience research park she insisted be part of any Sunflower transfer to the state's nearly two-year-old $500 million bioscience initiative. The park and Kansas University's presence on De Soto's doorstep should afford the city a wonderful marketing opportunity when the new sewer is completed.

It was Johnson County Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh who fouled the atmosphere. Oddly on a day given to celebrating the future, she revisited past spats, characterizing negotiations with De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson concerning the Sunflower water plant as sometimes "strenuous." She wrongly stated the city was to receive 42 public-benefit acres, the total the city and De Soto USD 232 are to receive (perhaps had the district been more strenuous, it would have received more than the clearly inadequate 30 acres).

But what surely caused the biggest stink among De Soto listeners was Surbaugh's reference to building a new "city."

As the county chairwoman surely knows there is no enthusiasm in De Soto for the creation of a pampered neighbor it will surround on three sides. Any move to do so, which would be near impossible under current state statutes, would lead to long-lasting enmity in northwest Johnson County, retarding future progress in the city and the plant.

Perhaps Surbaugh meant the task ahead was akin to building a new city. If so, she needs to choose her words more carefully.

As for De Soto officials, they should watch developments to the south with "strenuous" vigilance.

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