news feature
January 11, 2008

 

 

 

Activists react to fast
tracking of KC Plant

by Bruce Rodgers

Since 2003, local peace activists have focused much of their energy in opposing the Iraq War. But the group PeaceWorks KC, founded in 1982 as the Kansas City Nuclear Freeze Coalition, with a membership of 300 and a mailing list of over 1,500, according to spokesperson Kris Cheatum, has now also turned its attention to the proposed move of the Kansas City Plant (KCP) on Bannister Road.

Converted in 1949 from manufacturing engines for World War II Navy planes, the KCP produces 85% of the non-nuclear components for U.S. nuclear weapons. More than 98% of its approximately $400 million budget is nuclear weapons related.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency within the Department of Energy, proposes to build a new half-billion dollar, 1.5 million square foot plant in Kansas City near the old Richards-Gebaur Airport, northwest of Hwy. 150 at Botts Road. The new plant would continue to be operated by Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies Corp. for the NNSA.

However, unlike the current KCP facility, which is owned by the federal government with the General Service Administration (GSA) as the landlord, the new plant would be built by private investors and leased back to the GSA.

PeaceWorks has raised questions about this public/private arrangement both in job losses, lack of congressional oversight and added costs to taxpayers in building and operating the new KCP.

But what has motivated activists, both locally and in other parts of the country, to organized around KCP issues is the GSA’s refusal to hold a public hearing on the draft Environment Assessment (EA) issued for KCP.

Aerial view (date unknown) of the Kansas City Plant near Bannister Road and Troost. (photo courtesy of the Los Alamos Study Group)

Unlike the other seven other nuclear weapons facilities in the country, the KCP has been “left out,” say activists, of the national Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which analyzes environmental consequences when there are changes to the nation’s nuclear stockpile management. The decision was made to apply the less rigorous Environmental Assessment to KCP.

On May 23, 2007, nearly 100 people turned out for a public “scoping” (to scope a document before it comes out) meeting concerning the upcoming KCP Environment Assessment draft. When the EA was released on Dec. 10, 2007, it noted that 24 people provided oral comment at the May meeting and approximately 500 individuals submitted written scooping comments. (The EA is available at www.gsa.gov/kansascityplant.)

Local activists contend the GSA is hiding behind a “legal technicality” in not holding a public hearing (after the release of the EA draft) and that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that proposed “major federal actions” be subject to public review.

GSA Regional NEPA Coordinator Carlos A. Salazar doesn’t agree. In the Federal Register, May 1, 2007, Salazar stated: “…It is appropriate to separate the analysis of the transformation of non-nuclear production for the Supplemental PEIS because decisions regarding non-nuclear activities would neither significantly affect nor be affected by decisions regarding the transformation of nuclear production activities.”

Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, who Cheatum says is consulting with PeaceWorks, said an Environmental Impact Statement would require “a more stringent procedural process, which mainly involves the requirement of hearings,” than an EA.

Lack of a public meeting on the KCP move had PeaceWorks organizing its own meeting on Jan. 9, 2008.

“Other (nuclear weapons production) sites are having ES (environmental impact statement) hearings, we’re left out of that,” said Cheatum. “That’s why PeaceWorks decided to have our own.”

At the meeting, Coghlan said he thought there was a “direct relationship” between the turnout at the scoping meeting and GSA avoiding having a public meeting on the Environment Assessment draft.

“They didn’t want to hold another hearing for citizens to organize around,” Coghlan told a crowd of about 80 people. “There should be an (environmental impact) statement — this is a half-billion dollar facility.” He called the Environment Assessment draft a “rubberstamp” for the new KC plant.

Coghlan concedes that the new plant would likely have lower emissions that the current Bannister facility. He said the real environment issue is the clean up of toxins at the current plant. In a written statement, Coghlan charges that the EA “excludes decontamination, demolition and environmental remediation of the old Plant once NNSA moves to the new Plant.”

According to Coghlan, the EA estimates such a cleanup at $287 million — in FYO6 dollars through 2030 — with any cleanup likely not to begin until 2015 or later. He charges that the estimated cleanup cost is likely insufficient. Beryllium, dust, PCBs, acidic and alkaline liquids, solvents, oils, coolants and low-level radioactive waste are some of the toxic materials PeaceWorks believes are found at KCP.

“They’re low-balling the funds for ongoing cleanup,” Coghlan told the Jan. 9 audience. “I see the NNSA walking away from cleanup and it’s not clear what federal agency would be responsible for the cleanup.”

He suspects that a cleanup at the plant is being deferred because of a focus on a more aggressive nuclear weapons production program. Further, Coghlan speculates that the speed in which this proposal is undergoing — particularly in how the GSA solicited bids for the new plant prior to the release of the EA — may be driven by politics.

“They (NNSA) know they are running out of time under the present administration and (the proposal) may received a more scant view than under the current president,” Coghlan said.

The local congressional delegation from both parties have expressed support for the KCP move.

Coghlan and PeaceWorks activists find it ironic that elected officials point to job creation in supporting the new KCP while studies show a loss of jobs. How many depends upon if a new plant is built or not.

The EA draft indicates a net job loss of 650. Yet even with “No Action” taken, keeping the status quo, there’s a projection of 100 lost jobs. Those facts, say Coghlan, show that local politicians “are supporting the alternative that results in the most job loss.”

The private financing aspect of the new KCP will cost taxpayers more than if the GSA owned the new facility, said Coghlan. In quoting The Kansas City Star, he notes that the $500 million plant would end up cost $912 million in lease costs. Also, Coghlan said, these “third-party transactions tend to avoid congressional scrutiny” because the transaction “conform to annual federal costs” and don’t show federal money obligations made over a number of years.

In other words, costs for the new KCP wouldn’t appear in the annual Department of Energy budgetary requests but would be a specific budgetary line item.

Neither does Coghlan rule out tax breaks being given to the private developer, or “creative financing,” a term he says he has heard from GSA and congressional officials when talking about the new KCP.

“The whole thing is a crooked deal and they’ve really got the skids greased,” said Coghlan at the Jan. 9 PeaceWorks meeting. “I’m astonished at how fast it’s going down.”

“They’re hell bent on getting this plant built. The public be damned.”

Coghlan says he has not ruled out a lawsuit. He has sued before pertaining to the National Environmental Policy Act. “I see a cogent legal case,” he said.

For more information, go to www.gsa.gov/kansascityplant, www.peaceworkskc.org or www.nukewatch.org. The deadline for public comment is Jan. 14; email nnsa-kc@gsa.gov.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.


              
              
                 

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