Homeowners from Copper Springs, Prairie Highlands and Gardner Lake attended the Aug. 17 Johnson County Board of County Commissioners meeting to voice opposition to the planned construction of a 400,000 square foot cold storage facility at New Century AirCenter. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
Around 40 local homeowners attended the Aug. 17 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting to express disapproval of the planned construction of a 400,000+ square foot cold storage facility at New Century.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, homeowners on Moonlight Road were joined by residents of Copper Springs, Prairie Highlands and Gardner Lake.
The project they are opposed to has already been approved and permitted by the county.
Lineage Logistics, LLC, plans to build a 400,000 sq. ft. cold storage food distribution facility just east of Moonlight Road on 159th Street. It will be directly west of the UniLever facility and directly north, across the road from the Johnson County Sheriff’s facility.
The primary objection is the storage of a large amount of anhydrous ammonia, used as a refrigerant to cool the warehouse to sub zero temperatures. It’s not the use that is of concern to residents, but the mass amount that will be needed to cool that much space.
A fact sheet prepared by Lineage for commissioners says that amount will be 40,000 pounds.
A group of 8 to 10 people who own residential property along Moonlight Road have filed suit in District Court, hoping to halt construction. They are continuing to add names to the list of those opposed, as nearby residents are learning about the facility.
Mike Jenkins, who owns the residential property directly bordering the new facility, is leading the effort of the homeowners. He has addressed various governing bodies multiple times in 2017 and was the first to speak to BOCC at this meeting.
Jenkins played video of a 2007 ammonia leak at an agriculture plant in Seward, Ill.
The video is from a security camera observing the parking lot of a nearby building. It shows a car pulling up to the door – a man jumps out and runs inside. He soon runs back out and takes off in his truck. Shortly afterwards, many people start running out of the building, getting in their cars and fleeing.
The cloud of gas becomes visible while the parking lot is emptying. It clings to the ground and is moving. One of the last cars gets engulfed in the cloud momentarily before bursting out. The 15-20 foot tall cloud stays on the ground and soon covers the entire ground surface visible to the elevated camera.
“The bottom line is, this stuff’s dangerous and this conglomerate, Lineage Logistics, has a history of releasing this. We have the history, and we’ll continue to make it available to you so you can make a good decision regarding how to go forward to stop this,” Jenkins said.
The second speaker was Mike Duncan, who resides in Prairie Highlands.
“I don’t want to be reactionary and neither do my neighbors, but we are very disappointed we weren’t made aware of this in a more timely manner,” he said.
“If the commission goes on further with this and is unwilling to accept our discussions about this, we, as a neighborhood feel like we will have no alternative but to join the lawsuit to try to stop it,” Duncan concluded.
Sharon Carroll said she and her husband live on Moonlight Road, 700 feet from the planned facility.
She said the new facility would cause devaluation of her property.
She urged the commission members to come and visit her home.
“After you see that it is a home, not a spot on a map, I want you to ask yourself if you would move yourself and your family here, knowing that the proposed construction will be filled with thousands of pounds of deadly anhydrous ammonia,” she said.
Vince Werkowitch is a neighbor of the Carroll’s on Moonlight Road. He is recently retired from the Sheriff’s Department, and worked for years at the New Century facility.
The facility can have a population of 600-800 at any given time.
Werkowitch said his concern is the safety of the inmates.
He said the majority of the prisoners were there because they couldn’t make bail or because of other relatively minor things, and asked, “Who hasn’t had a family member spend a night in jail?”
“These people deserve our respect and concerns about their safety. I can just imagine a cold winter day where the wind’s not blowing very hard, and an ammonia leak cloud creeps towards the jail. There’s no way for them to evacuate prisoners. There is no way. They can’t seal the building. It’s just impossible,” Werkowitch said.
Janna Walker, said her husband is a sheriff’s deputy, and there are a lot of deputies who are very concerned.
“I don’t think the jail is equipped to evacuate that many inmates, deputies, civilian specialists and anyone else that happens to be in the building should something happen,” she said.
“Building something like this next to a building that has hundreds of people in it daily is a huge safety concern for everyone,” Walker said.
She said that residents believe they were not given opportunity to voice their concerns before the project was approved, and the lack of communication feels purposeful.
Jan Pringle, lives at Gardner Lake and has recently retired after 35 years as a realtor.
Pringle said that realtors were required by law to disclose material facts to buyers.
“Imagine yourself as a potential home buyer in any of these areas, and the realtor looks at you and says, ‘by the way, just so you know, you’re in an evacuation zone of a potentially hazardous chemical release,’ “ She said that even if a buyer wasn’t deterred by that, they would now expect they could negotiate a lower price.
Pringle also noted that despite OSHA and other regulations, accidents do still occur.
Ann Ray of Prairie Highlands wondered how the residents would be notified to evacuate.
She said if a siren went off when the weather was nice, people on the golf course would just think it was a test. She also said there were people with asthma who could not take much exposure.
Don Lehman, who lives on Gardner Lake, said he had just heard about this a few days ago and he was sure there was a lot more people who still don’t know about it.
He said that if there were a leak that put Copper Springs or Gardner Lake residents at risk, he didn’t see how they could be evacuated in time.
“I’m not opposed to the plant itself, but the location has got to be reconsidered. It’s just incredible that it’s been passed and gotten this far, in my opinion. I strongly urge each one of you to reconsider,” said Lehman.
Bill Bonine lives in Copper Springs and said he felt the commission had been disinterested in hearing residents concerns, and that was disrespectful and sad.
He said many of his neighbors wanted to attend today, but they had to work and couldn’t make a morning meeting.
He told commission members they had “great responsibility.”
Another resident who spoke to commission, said he had experience in chemical plants all over the world and was acutely aware of the dangers, risks and preventative measures that go along with hazardous materials.
He said that later in his career, he had worked in programs designed to attract businesses that bring high paying jobs and long term economic benefits to communities.
“From my perspective, what this company is offering and bringing, in terms of economic advantage to this community, versus risk – it’s just not a smart business deal,” he said.
This comment generated applause from the audience.
Gina Reed, who lives in Prairie Highlands, said she was a teacher at Sunflower Elementary in Gardner for 12 years. She was concerned about the 500 students in the school and wanted to make sure the commission considered that.
The school is one and a half mile from the planned facility.
At the conclusion of public comments, Ed Eilert, BOCC chairman, said that now that a lawsuit is in progress, commissioners have been advised by their legal counsel to limit comments about the subject.
He did make some general remarks.
He invited all to pick up copies of material prepared by Lineage Logistics with information on their use of anhydrous ammonia, which was on a table by the door.
Eilert said Lineage will not produce anhydrous ammonia or use it for any other purpose, aside from as a refrigerant.
He said anhydrous ammonia has long been used widely in Johnson County for agricultural purposes, and there were many existing facilities using it in industry.
“This board takes its responsibility very very seriously and examines all the issues, and we do appreciate your participation today,” said Eilert in closing public comments.