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Polluted plant cleanup to cost $13 million

LAWRENCE — State officials said removing pollution at a former fertilizer plant will cost $13 million over three decades — and it is not clear who will pick up the bill.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment on Wednesday closed a 30-day public comment period on a draft cleanup plan for the former Farmland Industries plant east of Lawrence. Officials said they expected a final plan to be filed in the next 60 to 90 days.

They hope that having a road map to removing toxic substances at the plant will increase interest from buyers who want to develop the 500-acre property for commercial or industrial use.

"Anybody interested in purchasing the property will now know what our expectations are for cleaning up the property," said Rick Bean, a KDHE section chief who is overseeing the cleanup plan.

The plan found that it will cost $13 million over 30 years to remove high levels of nitrogen and ammonia that have contaminated the soil and groundwater at the site.

That's far more money than was set aside for cleanup costs during Farmland Industries' bankruptcy.

The cleanup trust fund has about $4 million, while an administrative trust fund has about $6 million. Questions remain about how much of the administrative fund can be used for cleanup.

Lawrence City Manager David Corliss said the city is negotiating with the bankruptcy trust and the state to use the entire administrative fund for cleanup. The city is interested in buying the property for a business park.

That plan could run into interference by Capitana Redevelopment Group, an Overland Park investment group that purchased a legal interest in the administrative trust fund and has said it doesn't think all the money can be used for cleanup work.

The state's proposed plan doesn't address who is right but acknowledges the cleanup project will not happen until a third party buys the land and helps contribute.

However, the plan does say which cleanup work needs to be done first and that there's enough money to ensure the pollutants don't spread from the property.

"The priority is to ensure that the public is protected," said Gary Blackburn, KDHE's director of environmental remediation. "This plan will allow us to do that."

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