City Council declares Cornhusker Ammunition Plant site blighted and substandard

    The Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant site is nineteen square miles in size. Credit: The Nebraska On-line Cold War Museum

    In a 9-0 vote, with Councilwoman Julie Hehnke absent, the Grand Island City Council approved a blighted and substandard study for about 12,233 acres on the former ammunition plant site. The study was commissioned by the Central Nebraska Growth Foundation and prepared by Marvin Planning Consultants of David City.

    Regional Planning Director Chad Nabity said two areas on the site that were previously declared blighted and substandard were not included in the study. He added this area would not count against the 35% total land the city can have declared blighted and substandard. He went on to say the study, that was approved and forwarded to the City Council from the Regional Planning Commission, would allow for future development projects, including those seeking tax-increment financing, on the site. He emphasized none of these future projects would involve residential development.

    Ron Depue, who represents the Central Nebraska Growth Foundation, said the foundation was asking for council to approve the study and the blighted and substandard designation to enable further discussion to proceed in the future. “Tonight, we are just trying to get a first down. We want to move the chain to continue the process of development of this property. We are simply asking for a blighted and substandard designation. We are not here presenting any plan or any other great detail. We are also not asking you to spend one dime of city money, so it is no cost to the city.”

    Nabity said that as the city moves forward with this study and blighted and substandard designation for the former Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant site, it would need to consider an ordinance to annex the site prior to the approval of a redevelopment plan. “It is not a requirement that council approve an annex, but that it would think about it”, he said.

    Councilman Chuck Haase questioned Nabity about how the city could potentially expedite the annexation process and if there was any plan to do so. Haase said, in his opinion, annexing would broaden the city’s tax base and benefit Grand Island citizens, and that state statute has to be followed when it comes to annexation, but that is possible. He said: “More than likely, it would take property owners willing to voluntarily bring their properties into the city limits.”

    Councilman Roger Steele said he read the entire agenda document on this item and noticed it provided information that state the former Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant site has “dangerous conditions to life or property due to fire or other causes”.

    He added the document indicates there are landfills filled with asbestos and other potentially hazardous materials and that the greatest health risk is to people ingesting or touching contaminants in the soil and/or groundwater. “From these facts, the city is on notice that there are dangerous conditions on the land which may involve a reasonable risk of harm to people on the property”, Steele said. “Knowing these things means the city must act with due care before it allows development on contaminated land.”

    Steele questioned Depue and the Central Nebraska Growth Foundation on what assurance they had that these conditions have been resolved so the City of Grand Island does not get sued for allowing this development on contaminated land.

    Depue said the Army has been very diligent in assuring what can and cannot be developed at the site, as well as monitoring wells on the site. “If there are additional hazardous substances found that is not caused by the current owner and occupant, they are required to come back and clean those up”, he said. “I think everything has been done, but if someone violates covenants and does things contrary to the restrictions, they have a potential problem. But, I cannot fathom the city incurring any liability simply because of this blight designation.”

    Steele said he understood this, but wanted to see “satisfactory proof” that future redevelopment plans on the former Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant site will remediate the dangerous conditions of the property.