Cleanup at old Sunflower site still years from completion, but Army says that shouldn’t impact Panasonic factory

Ongoing cleanup efforts at the long-shuttered Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant gained new relevance this month after Panasonic announced plans for a new battery plant on the site. Army officials say the project is on track to finish by 2028. File photo.

Roughly 25 years after its closure, cleanup on the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant south of K-10 highway in De Soto is still forecast to take at least six more years, even as a new $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant is set to be built on the long-abandoned site.

What’s going on? At a public meeting Wednesday night at De Soto City Hall, representatives from the U.S. Army gave an update on ongoing efforts to clear the site of explosive and contaminated materials.

  • The U.S. Army has been working on remediation efforts alongside the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and several contractors since 2015.

How did it get here? The ammunition plant closed for good in 1997, and Sunflower Redevelopment LLC has owned the property since 2005 and had also been trying to clean up in the site in that time.

  • When it was open, the plant produced ordnances, smokeless gunpowder and propellant during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
  • Responsibility for site cleanup goes to the U.S. Army, which took over the responsibility in 2015.
  • Cleanup entails removal of special waste from the site’s soil, ground water, buildings and pipes in order to pave the way for future development by the new landowners.
  • The Army is also responsible for conducting public meetings to update residents on how cleanup efforts are going.
  • This meeting marked the first public meeting by the U.S. Army on the project in three years.
De Soto residents at last night’s public meeting viewed maps of the project team’s intended cleanup progress from now to 2026. Photo by Lucie Krisman.

Why it matters: This most recent update comes in the wake of industrial conglomerate Panasonic’s announcement that it will build a $4 billion vehicle battery plant, which will occupy part of the roughly 9,000-acre site.

  • The battery plant will take up 300 remediated acres of the site and is expected to bring 4,000 new jobs to De Soto.
  • Ian Thomas, program manager for the U.S. Army’s cleanup team at the former plant, said the ongoing cleanup project won’t necessarily hinder Panasonic’s plans in De Soto.

What’s the timeline? Under the current schedule, the Army has performed corrective measures on 1,074 acres of the site.

  • The Army intends to complete work on another 391 acres in 2023, followed by 789 acres in 2024, another 598 acres in 2025 and another 1,274 acres in 2026.
  • Thomas said work on the site’s soil should finish by 2028.
  • After that, the Army’s cleanup team will remain in De Soto for about 20 more years to address any continued remediation issues or remaining groundwater cleanup.
  • This includes investigation of the nearby Kill Creek and Captain Creek for possible contamination, which is already underway.

Key quote: “We’re satisfied to say that we have gone through seven years of extensive work,” Thomas said. “We’re doing our level best to return the property to a state where it can be reused by the new property.”