Commission tables WaterOne intergovernmental proposal
A Johnson County public utility looking to use land in Leavenworth to extend its operation hit a slight roadblock Thursday.
Leavenworth County commissioners tabled a proposal by Water District No. 1 of Johnson County to enter into an intergovernmental agreement that would allow construction of four collector wells along the Missouri River and a residual monofill on 300 acres of property currently owned by WaterOne.
It was the commissioners' contention that WaterOne would be subject to all local land use regulations and could be forced to work within a special use permit.
WaterOne supplies approximately 400,000 Johnson County residents with drinking water and has been searching for ways to accommodate the growing population in quickly developing south Johnson County.
According to WaterOne's general manager Michael Armstrong, the most viable solution is to continue pumping water from the Missouri River, the source for two-thirds of WaterOne's current supply.
The planned collector wells would transport water from the river underground through a mile and a half of pipeline that would run along 115th Street in the Piper area to WaterOne's treatment facility in Wyandotte County. The waste filtered from the water then would be stored in the soil at the residual monofill, which would be north of Lakeside Speedway and east of the Archers Daniels Midland grain elevator in Leavenworth County.
According to Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokesman Karl Mueldener, the mostly-lime residuals are a byproduct of any water treatment and are inert, posing no direct hazard to the environment.
Officials agreed that the water-based residual material is heavy in nature, thus making it difficult and expensive to transport. The monofills allow it to be dried out and packed down so that it can be stored in the soil.
Leavenworth County adheres to a similar process for its water treatment, but in Leavenworth, the dried lime is distributed to farmers for "beneficial reuse" in their fields, said Debbie McRill, the county's solid waste manager.
Armstrong said he, too, was "confident that eventually (WaterOne) will find a good use for the residual material."
County commissioners' chief concern Thursday was the effects that WaterOne's operation might have on Leavenworth County.
Don Murphy, head of the Leavenworth Water Department, said that the short-term implications on Leavenworth County's water supply would be minimal but that possible long-term effects do exist.
"In a general sense, we're concerned with the Missouri River, which is at an all-time low," Murphy said.
Commission Chairman J.C. Tellefson expressed concern over the scant economic benefit that WaterOne's project would provide the county.
"I haven't read or heard anything that says (the monofill) would negatively impact the condition of the land," Tellefson said. "It might affect the value of the land, though, and that concerns me."
According to Tellefson, as the property owned by WaterOne is currently zoned, it would only provide around $300 yearly in tax revenue. Were the land in question to be used later for commercial purposes, the potential tax dollars would be in the tens of thousands.
According to Armstrong, though, the land could not support any commercial ventures because it lies in a two- to 10-year floodplain.
"The most likely use of this property long-term is for agricultural use," Armstrong said, adding that the land would continue to be farmed.
Armstrong also pointed out that WaterOne currently employs 19 Leavenworth County residents and provides "some ancillary benefits to Leavenworth County."
"The way I see it," he said, " Leavenworth County's getting 19 employees, $300 in tax revenue and a sludge farm."
Despite their differences, both parties were confident an agreement could be worked out, but it remains to be seen on whose terms this will occur.
Armstrong insisted the kinks could be worked out in an intergovernmental agreement. He said such an agreement would define the plans for the project, would include input from elected officials and the public, and would allow Leavenworth County to collect adequate tax revenue.
"(An intergovernmental agreement) gives us mutual benefits for a long-lasting relationship," Armstrong said.
Commissioners remained adamant, however, that a precedent had been established requiring WaterOne to follow local land use regulations in applying for a special use permit for the property.
"Nowhere in our plan do we allow for waste disposal without a SUP," Tellefson said.
Under a special use permit, WaterOne could be subject to review at a later date, whereas an intergovernmental agreement would protect WaterOne's property rights for the length of the use of the facility.
In addition, a special use permit would allow the option of public petition. If unhappy with the conditions set forth by the county and WaterOne, county residents could require that extension of the permit be subject to unanimous approval of commissioners.
"We're talking about forfeiting property owner's rights," 3rd District Commissioner Dean Oroke said. "I feel that the public should be able to intervene, and that they should have due process."
Armstrong said he "agreed with making this a public process" but maintained a special use permit would not be necessary for this to occur.
Ultimately the board tabled WaterOne's proposal Thursday to further meet with its attorney and planning and zoning director, while keeping the option open for adjusting the wording of certain zoning requirements.