After 30 years of effort, Johnson County officials are finally beginning to make progress in razing and cleaning up an abandoned industrial site that has worried parents near Blue Valley Middle School in south Overland Park.
With approval of funding proposed Thursday, some work could begin this year.
The Johnson County Commission reviewed a proposal to spend $725,000 from general fund reserves to clean up and tear down the derelict Kuhlman Diecast plant near 164th Street and Mission Road.
Commissioners praised the efforts of county and legal staff before putting it on the consent agenda for the June 17 meeting, all but ensuring its approval.
The sites’ deteriorating condition
The 35-acre site includes a crumbling, 74,000-square-foot warehouse, storage basins, several lagoons and a pond.
Large amounts of toxic chemicals were discovered there after a fire in 1991, which was mostly cleaned up by the federal government.
The site is within walking distance from the nearby middle and elementary schools, and it’s become known as a kids’ hangout. It’s also attracted ghost investigators and urban explorers. over the years.
In additions, it’s been a source of fires and calls to law enforcement.
Last fall, there was a triple-fatality accident on adjacent property at a railroad crossing. (The wives of the three men killed in that incident have now sued the property owners, accusing them of not properly maintaining the crossing. Those property owners do not own the warehouse site.)
Getting rid of the warehouse has proven complicated.
The site was not among Kuhlman assets sold in its bankruptcy proceedings some three decades ago, and it is now in custody of the liquidating agent.
The Environmental Protection Agency spent around $2 million cleaning up the drums of toxic sludge on the property, but has since filed liens for repayment.
The site’s proximity to the Blue River also makes it next to impossible to fence. Prospective buyers over the years have balked at taking on the clean-up expenses and future liability.
First step in longer process
Commissioners expressed happiness that something is finally happening on the site. But some rued the fact that county tax money is being used to clean up a private business’s mess.
Commissioner Janee Hanzlick asked whether there should be some state legislation to protect taxpayers from such a situation.
“As much as I support getting this structure down, I look at $725,000 and I think how we could use that for mental health co-responders or senior care money, but we have to use it to clean up this mess,” she said.
Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara, who has been raising the Kuhlman issue at every meeting for months, said she is gratified to see the start of removing some of the worst danger to curious school kids.
“Hopefully soon this will be a piece of property that is no longer a kid magnet and, as I have had some parents report to me, a rite of passage for 13-year-old boys,” she said.
Approval of the budget item is only a first step in finding a better use for the area.
The site is on an unincorporated part of the county, although it’s very near the Overland Park city line. The county would not take ownership of the property along with the cleanup, but there’s been some long-range talk of eventually turning it into a park, perhaps with cooperation of both jurisdictions.
“This is step one,” O’Hara said. “Hopefully step two and three will lead this to become a park and part of the streamway.”