In the News
Salina Journal | Charles Rankin
On Wednesday, Sen. Jerry Moran was in Salina to visit the Salina Regional Airport and check on the status of the former Schilling Air Force Base cleanup project.
The project, which addresses environmental concerns with plumes of solvents in the ground at the site, is moving forward after the U.S. government agreed to a settlement with the Salina Public Entities (SPEs) of over $65 million.
"We are weeks away, I think mid-January, from receiving (that) from the United States Treasury," said Tim Rogers, executive director of the Salina Airport Authority.
Moran said he wanted to make sure the process was going forward smoothly.
"I was coming through Salina today and thought this might be an opportunity to make sure that, if there's something missing that I don't know or something more that I need to do," Moran said.
Rogers said things were moving along well, with hopes of having cleanup work being in the summer of 2021 and the project lasting several years.
"The heavy lifting takes place in the first five to seven years," Rogers said. "Then you start monitoring and operating the groundwater systems for upwards of 20 years."
Rogers, along with Unified School District 305 Superintendent Linn Exline and Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus CEO and Dean Alysia Starkey, who were representing their respective entities of the SPEs, thanked the senator for his continued support of the project and for advocating for the funding from the government.
Moran asked what this cleanup means as a benefit for the community. Rogers said that answer is probably different for each of the SPEs.
"From the Airport Authority's standpoint, it's the continued development of the airport and airport industrial center," Rogers said.
Rogers noted that the prospect of the cleanup played into Schwan's decision to build a 400,000-square-foot expansion at its Salina pizza plant.
"They were aware of the pending settlement," Rogers said.
He said this is likely to bring further development into the area, too.
"I think having this question answered of who's responsible for the cleanup makes a big difference in capital investment," Rogers said.
For Exline and USD 305, the cleanup meant a safer place for students in Salina to grow up and learn.
"Several of the (toxic) plumes are moving toward the city," Exline said.
She mentioned Schilling Elementary School, located not too far from the airport, and Salina Area Technical College, which has buildings that are still owned by the public school district as it was part of the USD 305 system before becoming independent. This will allow Salina Tech to take over the buildings officially.
"Very soon now, we will be able to do that transfer that we've had ready to go for several years," Exline said. "We were waiting for this to be buttoned up."
Safety was similarly on the mind for Starkey and K-State Polytechnic.
"We had to remind the federal government during the mediation that it is already a residential area," Starkey said.
She said 200 students live, eat, sleep and breathe the air on campus.
"(This) is a comfort for those students, as well as their families," Starkey said.
Starkey also said the campus is outgrowing its residence halls and learning spaces and will need to expand more to meet the educational needs of a growing aviation industry for Salina and the world.
Though his stop was brief, the senator seemed pleased to hear the project is moving along as Moran has made it a big priority of things to do in central Kansas.
"I think you're telling me we're in good shape," Moran said.
Rogers said getting to this place was the work of many people.
"It's the hard work, perseverance and dedication to the issue on behalf of the entire community," Rogers said. "Now the really fun part starts."