Ground broken on $539 million levee project

Ground was broken on Wednesday for a $539 million levee project to reduce flooding along the Missouri and Kansas rivers. (Photo from U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids’ office)

Ground was broken today on a $539 million levee project that is expected to reduce flooding and improve infrastructure along the Missouri and Kansas rivers in the Kansas City area.

The project is scheduled to be completed in 2026, according to officials.

When finished, the project will improve 17 miles of levees along the Kansas and Missouri rivers, protecting 32 square miles of residential, industrial and commercial areas containing 100,000 jobs, 7,000 structures and $25 billion in investments.

The $529 million project received federal funding through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The collaboration of local communities including Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Kaw Valley Drainage District led to the effort to get the funding legislation passed in Congress.

“Bolstering the levee system in Wyandotte County and surrounding communities is critically important,” Mayor David Alvey said. “These improvements have and will protect the safety of persons who live and work near and behind the floodwalls and levee system, protecting homes, businesses, and billions in property and infrastructure. Improving its reliability and resiliency now ensures these systems perform in future flood events, minimizing the impact on life and property. Moreover, levee enhancements can also act as a catalyst to connecting people, providing new bike and hike paths along the river that expand recreation opportunities and improve quality of life in our communities.”

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, vice chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, attended the groundbreaking.

“Kansans and all those who live along the Missouri and Kansas rivers know just how much devastation floods can cause in our communities – and it’s only gotten worse in recent years,” Rep. Davids said. “This new project will invest in our levee infrastructure resulting in safer neighborhoods and new and permanent economic development opportunities for local communities. I am excited for both the immediate and long-term benefits that will follow.”

The Weather Channel has ranked Kansas City the fifth most vulnerable U.S. city to the effects of climate change, particularly flooding. Rep. Davids has advocated for flood safety at the federal level, securing funding for the national levee safety initiative in the FY 2020 appropriations bill and outlining potential solutions to the challenges communities in Kansas are facing in response to extreme weather. Most recently, Rep. Davids, in partnership with local governments, successfully secured the maximum amount of federal funding for the Upper Turkey Creek levee project.

More than 27,000 residents and 2,700 businesses and structures benefit from the reduced risk of potential flooding produced by approximately 32 miles of existing levees and floodwalls along the Kansas and Missouri Rivers in Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, according to a UG spokesman.

This system of levee units, which protects the safety and economic vitality of the Argentine, Armourdale, and Central Industrial District (CID) levee units, among others, will be further strengthened by improvements that began construction in 2019.

The levee improvements stem from a 1993 flood event during which water crested near the top of many local levees and floodwalls. This highlighted the need to improve flood infrastructure and reduce risk throughout Greater Kansas City, the UG spokesman stated.

Levee improvements already have taken place in three of the seven local levee units: Fairfax-Jersey Creek, North Kansas City and East Bottoms. Additional improvements will be constructed through 2026 in the Argentine, Armourdale and CID levee units.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids helped to break ground Wednesday on a new $529 million levee project to reduce flooding along the Missouri and Kansas rivers. (Photo from U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids’ office)
The KC Levees project schedule shows work scheduled for Armourdale and Argentine through 2026. (Information from KC Levees project)
Levees remaining to be improved include Argentine, Armourdale and the Central Industrial District. (Information from KC Levees project)
A graphic outlines the levee improvements to be made in the Argentine, Armourdale and Central Industrial District. To see this information in larger detail, visit https://www.wycokck.org/files/assets/public/public-works/engineering/documents/public-works-kc-levees-program-overview.pdf. (Information from KC Levees project)

Argentine fast-food proposal hits another snag

No action was taken on the Argentine fast-food proposal at tonight’s Unified Government Economic Development and Finance Committee meeting as the project hit another roadblock. This time the roadblock was ownership of the building site.

A communication Unified Government Administrator Doug Bach received from the state Department of Transportation this afternoon brought the building site at 18th and Metropolitan into question.

According to agenda documents, the UG administration did not recommend approval of the project earlier for other reasons, because “it proposes exceptions to terms which are fundamental to good contracts.”

The proposed $1.96 million project is a combined Wendy’s and Pizza Hut at 18th and Metropolitan Avenue. Incentives and grants, including a federal grant of $600,000, and a UG contribution of $400,000, were proposed for the project. The project proposal, according to the UG agenda, would receive all property taxes and sales taxes in the project area for the next 20 years, and proposed a 1 percent community improvement district on sales for 22 years.

The building site was owned by KDOT, and was promised to the project a few years ago.

Bach told the EDF Committee tonight that the UG entered into an agreement with KDOT several years ago about the project site. However, the agreement had expired, and in contacting KDOT within the past few days, the UG learned of some additional problems.

He said KDOT, which is currently working on the 18th Street corridor area, having closed the bridge for work, has started a study review on 18th from I-70 to Steele Road. Until they complete their study, they are not going to renew the agreement for the building site at 18th and Metropolitan, he said. They may not be completing the study until August of next year.

“I no longer have the authority to put this ground in play,” Bach said. “I don’t have that option from KDOT to do this. Until we get any different ruling from them or clarification of the agreement, we can’t take action to give away property that isn’t ours.”

A second snag with the project was that they would have to do formal requests for proposals for this project, he said.

Commissioner Tom Burroughs asked if other building sites were available in that area. There are other pad sites available near the Save-a-Lot and also in front of the Walmart in Argentine, according to UG staff.

A representative of the project developer, however, said that the restaurants do not want any other site. Because of the visibility from 18th Street, it would either be the site at 18th and Metropolitan or no site, he said.

Commissioner Ann Brandau Murguia, who worked on this project as executive director of the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association, said she worked directly with former Gov. Sam Brownback to acquire the site, which was on state right-of-way. She said an agreement was drafted, with the land to be given to the UG to hold until the development could move forward.

“We’re all aware of a lot of political delays in this development, and political shenanigans in moving it forward,” she said.

She said she found it interesting that the UG could move forward at lightning speed for a $6 million grocery store, and for multi-million developments in western Wyandotte County, and in 2.5 years it couldn’t move through two fast-food restaurants. “I just don’t understand,” she said.

The UG agenda stated that there was no private money in this development. However, Commissioner Murguia said there was private money involved. The Argentine Betterment Corp. would get a bank loan to construct this building, and rent monies from Wendy’s and Pizza Hut, which are private entities, would be used to help pay these loan payments.

Murguia said the community of Argentine came together to make things happen for their neighborhood, and got a Walmart and Save-a-Lot to locate there. The effort came from the Argentine area to improve the neighborhood, not from the UG, according to Murguia.

She said she would make some inquiries about the situation with the land. She also said she plans to be looking at each development project that comes before the UG more closely from now on.

“People in District 3, they pay taxes also, just like everybody else does,” she said.

At an earlier UG meeting, she said the purpose of the federal grant was to create jobs in a low-income area. This development was expected to create about 20 jobs.

A number of people attended the committee meeting, and some who spoke were mostly in favor of the fast-food project.

John Altevogt, who is a member of the Edwardsville City planning commission, said this type of project is good for the community and good for property values. He said developers with the Hard Rock Hotel project in Edwardsville had met earlier with Kansas City, Kansas, and were put through so much that they went to Edwardsville.

“We didn’t roll over and give them everything they wanted,” he said. “We worked efficiently with them, not take 2.5 years.”

He said he would encourage the UG to be more efficient so the city does not get a reputation that it is hostile to development.

Therese Gardner, who works for the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association, said, “These properties should already be developed.” She said it was “dirty politics.” Argentine has lost jobs, services and businesses because of this, she said.

Mario Escobar, who has been working with the project about four years, also said the development would be a boost for the community. It will help bring more development to the community in the future, he said. When it comes up again, he hoped the UG didn’t delay it any more, he said.

Henry Sandate said this project would have given the people of Argentine opportunity. He said that delaying the development project keeps the people poor and on federal programs.

The committee also heard from a Rosedale resident who said, “I don’t want my taxes to go to a franchise for fast food.” She was opposed to the project.

At tonight’s meeting, the objections listed in the agenda were not discussed by administrators.

The administration’s objections listed in the agenda included that the ABC will not provide for reversionary interest in the land if the project is not completed according to the agreement. The land came from the Kansas Department of Transportation. Also, the administration listed the special sales tax agreement, which would require 20 years of special project monitoring. According to the administration, the developer will only pay 1 percent of the UG’s proposed 2 percent administration fee.

To see earlier stories about the Argentine fast-food project, visit:
http://www.wyandottedaily.com/argentine-fast-food-restaurant-on-tonights-ug-committee-agenda/

http://www.wyandottedaily.com/argentine-fast-food-restaurant-proposal-under-discussion/