DE SOTO, Kan. — De Soto residents have a better idea for what it will take to clean up the Sunflower Ammunition Plant after the U.S Army held a public meeting Wednesday to discuss the decade-long process.
The plant was shuttered in 1997 and transferred to the Sunflower Redevelopment Limited Liability Company in 2005. In 2015, the Army started a 12-year process to remove what remains of the explosives and rocket propellants it created over the decades it operated mostly before environmental protection regulations.
“It was our process, our mission, and so we no longer have a mission or process and so we have to return it back in a way that it’s usable for whoever has it next,” said U.S. Army Base Realignment and Closure Sunflower Ammunition Plant Program Manager Ian Thomas.
It’s his job to get the plant cleaned up and occasionally explain the process to rooms full of local residents often watching the process from afar.
The challenge is that hazardous materials got into many of the structures on the plant and acres of soil and ground water. Cleaning it up means exhaustive soil samples and building demolition to meet modern state and federal regulations.
“Taking some of those buildings down, removing the slabs, removing the footings, removing the walls, and the sewers, whether they’re inside the buildings or outside,” said Thomas.
It’s important work for people who live nearby like John and Pam Ferris. John worked at the plant as a truck driver before it closed and isn’t very worried about what’s there or what will remain once the Army’s clean up process is completed in 2028. After that process is over, Thomas says the Army will still be around for 20-30 years after to handle any additional remediation issues that pop up.
That work took on new meaning this month when Panasonic announced a $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant that’s expected to create 4,000 jobs at the plant and about 4,000 additional jobs in the surrounding communities in industries that support the facility.
Panasonic’s project will be on 300 of 1,000 acres that is already clean and ready to be redeveloped. It brings the largest private investment in Kansas history to the Ferris’ doorstep, driving up the value of the rest of the plant once it’s safe, and driving up the value of the Ferris’ 15 acres.
“We’re getting older and 15 acres is a lot to take care of,” said Pam. “Maybe in about 10 years, we’re going to collect our profits, hopefully, and move into something smaller. If this is successful, the property value will go up, hopefully.
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