The City Council moves to keep the Kansas City Plant’s warm glow close to home

When the feds sell a project, by God, they really sell a project.

Representatives from the National Nuclear Security Administration and the General Services Administration dropped by City Hall June 24 to ask for the Planning and Zoning Committee’s final blessing on Honeywell’s move of its Kansas City Plant from Bannister Road to a new facility in what one presenter called “the industrial heart of the 6th District.” In doing so, they threw around so many million-dollar figures that Lil Wayne ought to remix the meeting’s Channel 2 audio into his next club banger.

The meeting was the public’s last chance to comment in support of, or opposition to, the relocation of the Kansas City Plant, which is the primary U.S. site for the manufacture and assembly of non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons.

Ann Suellentrop, a registered nurse and member of PeaceWorks KC and Physicians for Social Responsibility, joined a Sierra Club representative in speaking against the plant. But the other testimony was a parade of yeses. In favor: the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; the Kansas City Port Authority; the Heavy Constructors Association; the project’s architects from HNTB; and the project’s development team of Zimmer Real Estate Services, LC, and CenterPoint Property Trust of Chicago.

The meeting was much less contentious than a hearing of the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority the previous Friday. Numerous no-nuke advocates attended that meeting, and the public’s commentary period was cut short. Retired plant worker Maurice Copeland was tossed out for raising his voice.

At the Planning and Zoning meeting, presentations from Michael Brincks, acting director of the GSA’s Heartland Region, and Mark Holecek, NNSA site manager, gave the impression that Kansas City, rather than spending $673 million, is actually receiving an envelope of cash in the form of future tax payments to the Grandview School District and a cattle-prod-like stimulus to the local economy.

According to Holecek, the new facility will employ 2,100 people, fewer than the current 2,400. Still, he added, that’s 2,100 high-paying jobs that won’t be leaving Kansas City, and the plant will be looking for young workers on deck as the plant’s many 50-and-older employees near retirement. The newer, more environmentally sound construction, he boasted, will save $100 million a year in maintenance fees over the ancient Bannister Road facility.

Contamination at that site has already been cleaned up under the watch of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources — for a scant $65 million, Holecek said. And there’s the promise of wetland mitigation on the site and even a hiking trail. Listening to Holecek, KC’s new nuclear-weapons factory started to sound more like a parks-and-recreation project.

Brincks’ presentation on behalf of the GSA, with his arsenal of dollar signs, was even more impressive. Once the new plant is completed, in 2011, it will earn the city $5.2 million a year in property taxes and another $2.1 million annually in payroll taxes. The project, he said, will inject $75 million a year into the local economy over the next 20 years.

Besides big numbers, there was fancy math: Every million dollars spent on construction, Brincks said, represents $4.3 million in future local-economy stimulus. And the farmland soon to be taken over by the enormous facility, which once represented a mere $652 in annual property-tax revenue to the Grandview School District, will now rain $1.6 million a year. Does it help the children? Brincks seemed to think so.

But, peacenik Suellentrop reminded the council, what about President Barack Obama‘s speech? The one he gave last April in Prague, in which he said the United States, as the only nation ever to deploy a nuclear weapon, had a moral responsibility to lead the way toward a world without nuclear weapons? What’s the point of building a $673 million nuclear-weapons facility when talk is turning to disarmament?

In his presentation, Holecek acknowledged that there had been “much debate” on the Kansas City plant’s future workload. He stressed that the new plant’s design would allow it to be flexible to the nation’s changing needs while keeping employees’ “critical skills” sharp in the face of any future threat to national security. Holecek also said people from the plant were more involved in advising on “national security activity.” Asked about that vague phrase after the meeting, he said he wasn’t allowed to offer a very specific definition, except to say the plant may design or produce non-nuclear weapons for the Department of Defense and its private-sector contractors.

Before the council voted, Suellentrop passed around an invitation to hear Hiroshima survivor Yoshiko Kajimoto speak Wednesday, July 8, at Johnson County Community College. Councilman John Sharp asked for a paper invitation.

“I certainly share the concerns of the people who are concerned with this project and who feel uncomfortable with the decisions made by the past administration,” Sharp said. He added that he was pleased to see the Obama administration’s dedication to reducing the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. He hoped that more remediation wouldn’t be necessary at the old Bannister site but said it was good to keep more than 2,000 “good paying” jobs in Kansas City and to accept the monetary spinoff promised to the local economy. He hoped to see the nation take more steps toward nuclear disarmament.

Then he advanced the project to the committee for a vote. It passed unanimously. The full council wasted no time rubber-stamping the new plant the next day.

“It’s a sad day for Kansas City, in my opinion,” Suellentrop said in the hallway outside the council chambers after the committee vote.

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