Group Sues to Halt Kansas Rail Project

Published February 20, 2010

Environmentalists are suing to halt a 500-acre railway project in northeast Kansas near Kansas City, billed as a huge boost to economic development that could bring thousands of jobs to the region.

Largest Project in Decades
“This is the single largest construction project in the state of Kansas over the last 30 years,” said Steve Devore, president of the Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce, which represents 240 businesses. “From the economic development perspective, it’s going to bring thousands of jobs, increase the tax base, and give exposure not only to Gardner but also to Edgerton and the entire region.”

Edgerton and Gardner are located about 30 miles southwest of Kansas City.

The local development company, The Allen Group, purchased land in the jurisdiction years ago with plans to build a $250 million international logistics park consisting of a railway and office space. The rail, when complete, will join the network of existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railway operations that traverse across the United States.

NRDC Claims Pollution Risk
All that could come to a halt, however, depending on the outcome of a lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers conducted an environmental review of the proposed project last August and issued a permit to begin development. On February 1, however, NRDC filed a suit claiming the federal government failed “to comply with federal environmental laws before authorizing the construction and operation of a massive railyard and distribution and warehousing center in Kansas.”

NRDC claims the project will pollute the air and create public health problems.

“[T]he National Environmental Policy Act required the Corps to perform an environmental impact statement and more fully assess the public health and environmental effects of the project. It didn’t do that,” said Jessica Lass, senior press secretary for NRDC.

Railway Operators Optimistic
BNSF Railway officials say they are confident the Corps properly conducted its environmental review and that the permitting process has met all legal standards.

“The project is moving forward, and I think they [The Allen Group] are just waiting for the outcome of a $50 million grant application from the federal government,” Devore said.

According to Bernice Duletski, deputy county manager for Johnson County, over its first 10 years the development will create 5,117 jobs in Gardner County and another 3,069 in Johnson County, with estimated 10-year property tax revenues for each locality at $12.7 million and $12.2 million, respectively.

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from Northern Virginia.