Parsons Sun, May 8, 2010
By Colleen Surridge
Thanks to the foresight of local citizens to create the Local Redevelopment Planning Authority (LRPA) and the Great Plains Development Authority (GPDA), land occupied by the government to make munitions will soon serve a dual purpose for the benefit of local residents.
Acquisition of the Kansas State Army Ammunition Plant's (KSAAP)
13,727 acres by the GPDA will provide not only land for growth of the Great Plains Industrial Park, providing space for business and industry placement allowing for expanded economic development in Southeast Kansas, but a natural resource in the form of a 3,000-acre nature reserve under ownership of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP).
Wildlife manager Rob Riggin said he believes KDWP is closer to receive the 3,000 acres of property from the U.S. Army, which will then become a protected natural resource.
Within the area, Riggin said, "There is some of the best wildlife habitat around. Labette Creek runs through part of the area, and there are several streams that run into it. There is wooded forest habitat that consists of pristine woodlands. Our goal is to protect that habitat and allow the public to benefit from it."
Conservation of the wildlife, flora and fauna in the area will be the primary goal of the KDWP, while also allowing the public access for hunting, fishing, bird watching, berry picking and mushroom hunting as it does in other preserved nature areas.
"I just talked to the Audubon Society last night about it. They are excited to come on and take an inventory of the birds there," Riggin said.
Conservation of such assets means limiting access to prevent the depletion of resources or destruction of them from overuse and to allow all those interested in enjoying the area to have access for their various outdoor interests.
"My goal would be to have a portion of the area open to giving the public a place they can go in and out of, but the majority of the property would be limited access through permit only or special permission to help protect the resources for the future," Riggin said. "Limited access means only allowing a certain number of people in at certain times of the year."
Riggin said they can't very well allow people to be in the area mushroom hunting during deer hunting season because of the dangers it would pose, so they have to coordinate activities according to season.
"We do want to make it a place everyone can enjoy though," he said.
It is known by many that throughout the plant grounds are some of the biggest bucks in the state.
With such knowledge existing among hunters, Riggin said to simply open up the area to the public would draw a massive number of hunters, quickly depleting that resource.
For that reason, he said, the KDWP will limit access and also continue to maintain a draw hunting system for a while at least, and perhaps in perpetuity.
While there was some consideration in prior years of there being opportunity for the KDWP to build a lodge on the property, or the GPDA to build a lodge just outside the nature area on its property where visitors could stay, Riggins said there are no other plans to alter the land, such as adding nature paths.
"But that is just me talking. That is what I want to see for the area. A lodge could be something the KDWP considers in the future, but I would like to try to keep the area as natural as possible so we are not planning on putting in any paths. If folks want to see it they can go in on foot,"
Riggin said. "We don't want to go in there with anything disrupting the natural habitat."
Riggin said the KDWP will have a meeting at the site this month to allow area staff to tour the property.
"We think we are getting close to the acquisition of the property, so we would like to introduce our employees to it from the area, especially those who will be working directly with it," Riggin said.
There is also a legislative tour coming up soon, where area legislators will learn about the KDWP's plans for the property and learn about the natural assets it boasts.
In addition, Riggin said there is a group that will be coming from Lawrence to conduct a biological survey of the land. The Kansas Biological Survey is a non-regulatory agency of the state of Kansas, and a non-degree granting research and service unit of the University of Kansas, recognized nationally in several fields of environmental research. The KBS mission is to gather information on the kinds, distribution and abundance of plants and animals in Kansas and to compile, analyze, interpret and distribute this information.
The Army has granted permission for these special visits, but since the land has not yet been transferred to the KDWP, entry remains restricted by the Army.
Even once the transfer takes place, public access to the area could remain restricted for some time.
Riggin said access to the KDWP reserve area is through the land to be transferred to the GPDA later this year.
"The Army is soon going to be cleaning up sites, working on decontamination, so I'm not certain of access in the future, as to when and where it will be allowed, and how it will affect us and access to our area," Riggin said.
There is no contamination on the 3,000 acres that for decades served as buffer between the ammunition plant and surrounding residential and farm land to prevent people from moving too close to the hazardous area, but other contaminated and secured areas at the former plant could prevent public access for a while.
These are precautions the Army must take, so Riggin asks the public to respect the security measures.
The only areas that access will remain open during those times, is the privately leased land.
"We will continue to allow grazing and farming in our area, even once the property is transferred, and so will the GPDA," he said. "There are several hundred acres of grass that is being grazed or baled, and it will remain that way. Sometimes folks would get upset when they would hear the KDWP was acquiring some of the land, but we realize that farming is an asset to wildlife, too, and it has a lot of benefits to both sides to allow it to continue."
Although there may be delays for the public to be permitted into the area, Riggin said they are very much looking forward to the day the public can enjoy this natural asset to the area.
"It's a very beautiful place. ... Hats off to the Great Plains Development Authority, and before that the Local Redevelopment Planning Authority. These groups had the foresight to look at this project with the best interest of the community in mind, to set aside a piece of the property to protect it and save the woodland and forest for future generations, and to recognize the potential for economic development too. It's great that they saw the potential for both assets for the community."
Parsons Sun, May 1, 2010
By Jamie Willey
It’s been five years since the announcement that the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant would close, and a development authority will have to wait at least a few more months before it gains control of the land.
Dan Goddard, Great Plains Development Authority executive director, met with Parsons city commissioners Thursday for an update on development of the future Great Plains Industrial Park.
The U.S. Army has transferred 2,600 acres to the GPDA, but transfer of the vast majority of the land at the plant east of Parsons is being held up in a “contest” between the Army, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency, Goddard said.
The land already transferred was handed over to the GPDA as clean property, but concerns remain over the cleanup involved for the rest of the land, which may have asbestos, lead-based paint and pesticide contamination. Goddard said when the GPDA makes progress on obtaining the land, something else sets it back. The latest projected date for transfer of the land is now August. The GPDA can begin explosive-decontamination of the property as soon as the issues between the Army, KDHE and EPA are settled.
The GPDA’s May 13 meeting will mark five years to the day that the announcement was made that the plant would close as a U.S. Department of Defense facility, Goddard said, but still the GPDA is progressing quickly. The small land transfer was the first of its kind in the round of Base Realignment and Closure Commission closings. No land on other facilities has been transferred.
While the delays are frustrating, Goddard said the GPDA wants to ensure it works closely with KDHE and the EPA for a long time and if required to do anything, the GPDA will see to it that it is done to protect itself.
Although land in the park can’t be zoned until GPDA owns it, the organization has created a proposed zoning overlay for the property. The zoning calls for lighter industry in the north and northeast parts of the park, with heavier industry to the south. There are three suggested levels of industrial zoning.
Part of the property would be zoned as an energy park, Goddard said, for use by wind energy or biofuels firms. One wind energy company has shown interest in locating at the plant and would like to install two or three test towers in the park. Although this area of Kansas isn’t as windy as the western part, the air density here may be high enough to make up for a lack of a lot of strong wind.
Day and Zimmermann Inc., the contract-operator of the plant, will get some of the land it now uses. The company hopes to get Department of Defense contracts to continue munitions manufacturing while eventually diversifying into other products, Goddard said. He said it’s a “pretty good bet” that the company will be able to continue operating at the park long-term.
The proposed zoning also includes a small residential area on the northwest edge of the plant.
The Labette County Commission will have to pass a resolution to create a five-member planning commission and a three-member appeals board. The planning commission will study the proposed zoning and give its recommendation to the county commissioners, who will approve a final zoning plan. The county also will have to hire or appoint a zoning administrator for the park.
Goddard said the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks will get possession of its land in the park “fairly soon,” however he doesn’t know when the public will have access to that land.
“I couldn’t really tell you exactly when that’s going to occur,” Goddard said.
The Army’s administration building will be marketed nationwide and probably sold this summer or fall under sealed bid. Goddard said he anticipates whoever buys the building would put it to use for business, generate jobs and put the building on the county’s tax roll.
The park will retain the plant’s controlled access, and other gates may be added during the decontamination process to keep the public safe. The park also will have roving patrols, Goddard said. Eventually, though, the roads within the park will be turned over to the county, at which time they will become public access roads with no restrictions.