October 10, 2008
challenge building of new nuke plant -– lawsuit a new element
Councilman Terry Riley likely had an inkling of the mood as he worked a cluster of activists in the City Council Chambers on Oct. 1. As chair of the Kansas City, MO City Council Planning and Zoning Committee, he wasn’t getting up close to change minds, or even have his mind changed. Call it reconnaissance as nearly fifty anti-nuke citizens gathered to give and hear testimony on City Ordinance #080913.
The ordinance declares 186 acres in south Kansas City “blighted and insanitary (sic) area in need of redevelopment and rehabilitation.” The land is located just north of the CenterPoint-KCS Intermodal Center, the site of the old Richards-Gebaur Airport, at Missouri 150 and Botts Road. CenterPoint Properties, a Chicago-based real estate investment trust, purchased the airport for $10 million earlier this year.
The blight-declared site is in a natural state and has been farmed in recent years, planted with wheat and soybeans.
The blight designation was recommended by the City Plan Commission and was affirmed by the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority of Kansas City (PIEA), also an appointed board, to make way for a “General Development Plan” for the area.
That plan calls for a $500 million redevelopment to replace the existing Bannister Federal Complex on Bannister Road, a facility that makes 85% of the non-nuclear components for the nation’s nuclear weapons. The plant is operated by Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technologies under the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
Part of the development plan calls for $40 million in tax incentives for infrastructure work, including new sewers, the widening of Botts Road and building a new interchange at 150 Highway. The incentives are needed, it was argued, to help secure the building of a 1.5-million-square-foot nuclear weapons component plant. Such infrastructure improvements would also benefit the CenterPoint-KCS Intermodal Center, which is developing a $200 million industrial park just south of 150 Highway though supporters of the KC plant development stated before the committee that the tax money would “only go to public infrastructure.”
Honeywell and GSA (General Services Administration) representatives said that the tax incentives were necessary to make the plan financially viable. The GSA would seek a private developer to build the new plant who would then lease it back to the government for 25 years. Benefits cited included retaining 2,100 high-paying jobs, a growth in nearby businesses serving the facility and increased tax receipts for the school district.
The matter-of-fact presentation by the Honeywell and GSA representatives contrasted with the sometimes-charged arguments delivered by over 20 citizens who voiced opposition to the ordinance. Most based their opposition on moral grounds — the use of taxpayer money to support the building of a nuclear weapons plant.
Ann Suellentrop, with the local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), said in a prepared statement: “I do not feel it is appropriate to use local tax money to build weapons of mass destruction. There are other higher priorities that the city should use its limited funds for common good, such as schools and health care. It’s outrageous that tax abatements could be granted to private developers to build a federal nuclear weapons production plant while the city has not passed a school levy in 40 years.”
Suellentrop also, along with others, questioned the city’s position in wanting to give tax subsidies for the new plant while not “pushing for needed cleanup and economic development at the old plant.”
Bradley Scott, regional administrator for GSA, countered that clean up of the Bannister site “has been authorized by Congress” but he did not cite any amount of money appropriated to fund such a cleanup.
Local attorney Henry Stoever challenged the finding of blight before the council committee and earlier at a public hearing in front of the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority. He said that any blight on the proposed Botts Road site was the fault of the landowner and through inaction by the city.
At the PIEA meeting in July, Stoever pointed to a city code which stated that evidence of blight would not be considered if "caused by the redevelopment corporation” — in this case Botts Road Development LLC, which acquired the property in 1999.
In a later interview, Stoever said the GSA did not hold a public hearing on the redevelopment plan and that the leaseback arrangement being proposed by GSA was “another sneaky way for the government to spend a lot of resources for weapons.” He also said the GSA failed to disclose to the city an upcoming lawsuit to be filed by environment groups over the redevelopment. That lawsuit materialized on Oct. 8.
Stoever, his wife Jane, Ann Suellentrop with the PSR, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other plaintiffs are asking a federal court in Washington DC to “set aside” the KC plant relocation and direct the GSA and NNSA to prepare “a new environmental analysis of site-cleanup and relocation alternatives.”
The suit alleges, stated a press release, “that decades of DOE (Department of Energy) activities at the KCP have generated significant amounts of hazardous contamination that must be properly treated and remediated to protect the local environment, especially groundwater.” The Bannister plant is near a flood plain of the Blue River.
Named in the lawsuit as defendants is GSA administrator Scott and Steven Taylor, manager of NNSA’s Kansas City Site Office.
Stoever said he expects the lawsuit to be “dragged out.” He added that he doesn’t know how the Planning and Zoning Committee will react to the lawsuit. A new committee hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for 1:30 pm, Oct. 15, in the City Council Chambers at city hall.
At the Oct. 1 hearing, 2nd Dist. At-Large Councilman Ed Ford voted against the ordinance. Sixth Dist. Councilman John Sharp voted in favor. When it moved to committee chair and 5th Dist. Councilman Terry Riley, he decided to postpone the voting. Vice-chair Cindy Circo did not voice her support or opposition, and the other committee member, 4th Dist. At-Large Councilwoman Beth Gottstein, was absent.
Suellentrop said she has contacted all the committee members leading up the Oct. 15 hearing, having only met with Ford, who previously voted no.
“There’s a lot of push-back (from supporters),” said Suellentrop, adding that Ford has been approached by Councilman Sharp, who voted yes and represents the district in which the KCP is located. Suellentrop anticipates a large turnout among opponents of the new plant development at the Oct. 15 hearing.
“We’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest,” she said. “I hope a thousand people show up.”
eKC online emailed all committee members asking for their position on the KCP redevelopment. Only Ford and Gottstein’s offices have responded as of 10/10/08. Ford’s assistant, Lisa Minardi, stated that Ford has met with both sides. Gottstein remains out of town. Mayor Funkhouser’s office has been emailed twice asking for his position. Those emails have yet to be answered.
Stoever does not rule out more lawsuits if the committee passes the ordinance out for consideration before the full city council and it succeeds there. “We’re watching every step of the way — don’t know until it happens,” he said.
Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.
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