Shawnee tribe told ‘no’ on Sunflower
The Shawnee Tribe will appeal a decision handed down last week that found it had no right to the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
"We were extremely disappointed with this decision," said the tribe's lawyer, Scott Beeler. "It is our intention to appeal to the 10th District Court of Appeals."
U.S. District Judge G. Thomas VanBebber of Kansas City, Kan., U.S. District Court issued a ruling March 31 stating Sunflower was not reservation land and, therefore, the Shawnee Tribe's claim was denied. The judge said the tribe gave up any rights to Sunflower's 9,065 acres when it accepted $27,000 for that and other land granted the Shawnee in an 1831 treaty.
"By the plain language of the 1854 treaty, the Shawnees released the United States to its prior commitment to exclude the Shawnees' lands from becoming part of the state," VanBebber wrote.
The Oklahoma-based Shawnee Tribe filed the lawsuit in 2002. At that time, the tribe also sought and obtained a restraining order preventing any transfer of Sunflower from federal hands until the lawsuit was resolved. VanBebber removed that restraining order as part of his decision.
Johnson County is currently negotiating the purchase of Sunflower with the Army and the U.S. General Services Administration. In January, the Johnson County Commission agreed to enter into exclusive negotiations with Kessinger/Hunter. County officials hope to avoid responsibility for Sunflower's environmental remediation and development by immediately reselling the property to the Kansas City, Mo., real estate developer.
The county's point man in those talks, County Counselor Don Jarrett, said VanBebber's ruling was welcomed by the county and developer.
"I think we all feel a little more comfortable preceding with the transaction because the ruling resolved one issue that affected the transaction," he said.
If the present schedule holds, key documents from that transfer should be released in one or two months, Jarrett said. Those documents will include primary conveyance agreement of Sunflower from the Army to the county as well as the county transfer agreement to Kessinger/Hunter. Also to be released at that time was a consent agreement between the developer and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment detailing how and when contaminated sites at Sunflower were to be cleaned up. Finally, Kessinger/Hunter would agree to insurance and bond contracts assuring what the cleanup should cost if pollution exceed expected levels.
"We're in the process of working those documents constantly," Jarrett said. "I think they will be out in the May/June time frame."
Even had the Shawnee not decided to appeal last week's decision, VanBebber's ruling would have neither ended legal challenges to the transfer nor Shawnee claims to Sunflower.
The Shawnee is also seeking a public benefit transfer of 1,500 acres of Sunflower for prairie restoration and bison introduction. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is considering that request.
The city's group Taxpayers Offering Tomorrow's Opportunities Inc. filed a lawsuit three years ago demanding an environmental impact study on Sunflower as a precondition to any transfer. The group also challenged a transfer without the required historical assessment.
The GSA conceded on the second point, agreeing to work with the Kansas Historical Society to document possible historic sites and in the development of a memorandum of agreement spelling out the responsibilities of future Sunflower property owners to protect those sites.
That document in now ready for judicial review.
As for the need for an environmental impact, the GSA contends that wasn't necessary under federal legislation allowing the early transfer of installations like Sunflower. Instead, that process requires an environmental assessment, which fulfills that same function.
The federal government completed an environmental assessment when the Oz Entertainment Co. plan was active. Jarrett said it was his understanding that document was recently amended and the federal government was now accepting public comment on the updated environmental assessment.
Jarrett and Kessinger/Hunter officials said in February their goal was to close on the Sunflower transfer at the end of the current federal fiscal year in October.