Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) waged a seven-year battle with the Army and the Environmental Protection Agency to overcome separate roadblocks to the effort by the Great Plains Development Authority to recover from the closure of the Kansas Army Ammunition Plant following the 2005 round of BRAC.
Without the third-term senator’s tenacity in pressing top federal officials to move the authority’s application for an economic development conveyance ahead, the LRA’s seven-year saga to obtain more than half of the property for redevelopment may never have ended.
Roberts’ critical role in accelerating the return of property at the closed plant to the community earned him one of the association’s inaugural Congressional Leadership awards. Award winners will be recognized at a special ceremony on Capitol Hill next week during the Defense Communities National Summit.
By the time the recommendation to close the plant was approved, the number of manufacturing jobs at the plant had declined to 360, but the opportunity to promote economic development in rural Labette County was too vital to allow protracted delays in redeveloping the 13,700-acre property. Following the BRAC announcement, officials in southeast Kansas did not spend time fighting the closure but, instead, set out to obtain the property from the Army as quickly as possible.
Soon the development authority found its plans stymied on two fronts. The EPA insisted the Army and the development authority fund and put in place a plan to remediate pesticides, a substance over which neither the agency nor the state had regulatory authority. The dispute between the two federal agencies blocked property transfer for more than two years. The other delay stemmed from the Army’s attempt to link the development authority’s transfer to the sale of another portion of the site to the plant’s munitions manufacturer.
Roberts, who shared the community’s goal of turning the closed ammo plant into an industrial park, applied all of the levers of power at his disposal to force the two agencies to reach an accommodation that would allow the property transfer to move forward. He continually demanded the secretary of the Army and the EPA administrator to explain their agencies’ actions and, when needed, called meetings with senior officials from both agencies to resolve the prolonged conflict.
After seven years, Roberts’ interventions on behalf of the LRA culminated when the authority signed a deed to take possession of its final 6,100 acres in August 2012, and held a ribbon-cutting two months later to celebrate the grand opening of the Great Plains Industrial Park.