Sunflower cleanup to resume this spring
Area residents familiar with past environmental remediation efforts at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant won't see anything different when the cleanup resumes later this spring except its pace, the man who is heading up the cleanup effort for the plant's new owners said.
The federal government transferred the closed plant to Sunflower Redevelopment LLC, a partnership of the Denver-based International Risk Group and the Kansas City real estate company Kessinger/Hunter and Co., for its commitment to complete the environmental cleanup of the plant beyond the $110 million the Army will provide for remediation.
Mikkel Anderson, chief technical officer and founding partner of International Risk Group, said the guarantee of federal and private money dedicated to the cleanup means the end to the incremental, start-and-stop cleanup that characterized past remediation as the Army spent money allotted for portions of the job and then waited for Congress to provide more.
Sunflower Redevelopment's goal is to complete the cleanup in seven years, Anderson said. To that end, large-scale remediation work would start at the plant in May with the resumption of work to rid the plant of explosive residue.
"There's a little preparation work going on, but not anything as visible as having heavy machinery moving stuff or a plume of smoke if you're burning something," he said. "Explosives and explosive issues will be given priority. Some of that does require burning; all of that will be done in three years."
The federal funding for the cleanup is allotted in two separate pots: one to cleanup soil polluted with non-explosive contaminants and a second to rid the plant of explosive hazards. Because it is more time consuming and the simple fact that much of the soil contamination side of the cleanup can't be safely conducted until the explosive side is completed, the explosive cleanup will be given priority, Anderson said.
Beyond that, the overall remediation schedule is summed up in several generalities, Anderson said. The 3,000 acres subject to different public benefit transfers to the Johnson County Parks District, Kansas and Kansas State universities and the city of De Soto will be cleaned before the remaining 6,000 acres that Sunflower Redevelopment will develop. Because of the location of the majority of those public benefit properties, the plant will be generally cleaned from the outside in and from the north to the south.
The explosive remediation includes burning those structures potentially contaminated with nitroglycerin during the manufacture of munitions at the plant, removal of sewer lines possibly containing explosive residue, and removal of soil with a high enough concentration of explosive pollution to be dangerous, Anderson said.
That effort would include the burning of about 110 structures, Anderson said. There would be fewer burns because some of the structures in close proximity would be burned at the same time, he said.
Although Sunflower Redevelopment is now responsible for the explosive remediation, it must use the methods the Army and the plant's then-civilian contractor, Alliant Techsystems Inc., developed when nearly 1,400 large and small structures were burned from 1997 to 2001, Anderson said. That means it can burn only when weather conditions are favorable and will surround burning structures with an umbrella of water to prevent large pieces of debris from being carried off in hot rising air.
The city of De Soto has agreed to provide Sunflower Redevelopment with untreated water for the burn effort as it did during the earlier burn program. But unlike that effort when the city's lease of the Sunflower water plant required it to provide the water free, the city will receive compensation for the water provided.
Ironically, the massive use of water in World War II safety procedures contributed to Sunflower's environmental problems. When the plant was operating, fires inside production facilities triggered the release of gallons of water, which then flowed out to contaminate soil near foundations.
Anderson said water would be used to soak the polluted soil to a point that it can be safely worked with machinery.
The final component of the explosive remediation involves the removal of contaminated sewer lines. To ensure those can be dug up, detonation cord would be threaded through parts of the line and set off to trigger the blast of any residue nitroglycerin, Anderson said.
"It's not the kind of explosives one would associate with the quarry next door," he said. "I don't think we'll have a daily booming activity out there."
Some remediation of soil contaminated with non-explosive pollutants will occur before the explosive work is finished, Anderson said. Once again, the remediation methods would be similar to those that have already taken place at Sunflower, he said. Soil polluted with non-explosive materials will be dug up, encased in concrete-like pellets and hauled to landfills.
"Pretty much the intent of the job right now is to dig and haul," he said. "It's the least costly and controversial way to deal with the site with minor exceptions."
More than just remediation methods would remain familiar. Sunflower Redevelopment is dedicated to a public education and information process like that in place when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued permits for past cleanup phases, Anderson said. One difference would be that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would now be the regulating agency, he said.
Also to be maintained is the Restoration Advisory Board, which meets every two months to help dissimulate information on Sunflower's remediation.
"We're committed to keeping the RAB process as long as it's seen as helpful and valuable to the KDHE and the public," Anderson said.