TOPEKA (KSNT) – Truckloads of concrete, metal rods and other construction debris were dumped into and along the Kansas River as part of the state’s teardown of the Docking state office building. The federal government said the project is out of compliance.
After a 27 News investigation, the state is apologizing and demanding those responsible clean the mess up.
The dump site is located east of Topeka in Jefferson County right behind Gary’s Berries, a corn maze and pumpkin patch owned by Topeka business magnate Gary Starr.
Starr said he received a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stabilize the bank alongside his property on the Kansas River. He said he started to explore options after becoming concerned over a loss of trees on the riverbank.
“We’ve had multiple loads of trucks dumping rubble into the river and we had a complaint,” Starr said. “There’s more metal in it than they want now.”
Starr’s neighbor, Jay Brown, was growing concerned about how much was being dumped there. He said six truckloads a day.
“I don’t think it’s right to put stuff in the river when there’s places closer where things can be done properly,” Brown said in an interview with 27 News’ Kansas Capitol Bureau Chief Rebekah Chung. “They could use proper material for the riverbank.”
When 27 News contacted the Army Corps about the concerns, the dumping came to a quick halt.
Starr’s permit was not in compliance with the permit the Army Corps issued, said spokeswoman Jessica Schaeffer. She said the material being used is not allowed to contain metal, rebar and piping.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District and the Kansas Water Office are aware of the non-compliance by the permit holder and we are working with them to advise on the next steps,” Shaeffer said.
In May 2021, lawmakers proposed spending $120 million to renovate the 14-story building across from the state capitol building. However, the price was reduced to $100 million due to the use of coronavirus relief funds.
The state hired a contractor – Hutton – to demolish the building. The teardown comes after years of wrangling, pitting the historic preservation of the building with dangerous asbestos concerns lingering inside. Finally, lawmakers compromised to tear it down and replace it with a smaller three-story office building. Parts of the building are being preserved and included in other state office building projects.
The contractor is responsible for determining where the rubble was dumped, Deputy Secretary of Operations & Director of Facilities and Property Management Frank Burnam told the Joint State Building Construction Committee on June 14.
Hutton hired a contractor – REMCO, of Kansas City, Mo. – to handle the demolition and removal of debris, according to Jennifer Szambecki, spokeswoman for Hutton.
“We can confirm our agreement includes requiring any demolition subcontractor to deposit materials in a safe, legal and compliant manner,” Szambecki said in an email.
27 News reached out to REMCO multiple times by phone, email and social media, but didn’t get any responses.
It is unclear how long the dumping was occurring. Brown, the neighbor, said it has been going on ever since the demolition of the building started in March. He said he notified the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Army Corps in August. The Army Corps has not provided a copy of the permit for our review as of yet.
“A lot of people I’ve called know what’s going on,” Brown said. ” They just didn’t think I’d get anyone to listen to me.”
Several state agencies were alerted to the 27 News investigation and issued statements in the wake of questioning.
“Our partners are responding by putting in place a plan to remove any unauthorized debris and will ensure proper disposal processes are followed moving forward,” said Samir Arif, spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Administration. “We apologize for any concern that this may have caused and appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through the demolition and construction process.”
Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Spokesman Matt Lara said KDHE inspectors have gone to the site and that the property owner (Gary Starr) is ultimately responsible for remediation.
“We do not have an estimate on how much material will need to be removed or what the cost will be,” Lara said. “KDHE inspectors have gone to the site however, we do not have an estimate on how much material will need to be removed or what the cost will be. The property owner is ultimately responsible, and remediation will not be an expense to the state.”
Dawn Buehler, Kansas riverkeeper and executive director of Friends of the Kaw, said they would be monitoring the situation. She said that the agencies involved would be able to assess the damage to the local habitat and help protect the river.
“We are the only non-profit that cleans up the Kansas River and we are now cleaning up dump sites from decades ago,” Buehler said. “And so, when I see an old toilet seat that has been dumped down the bank of the river, that’s going to wash downstream and eventually, me and my volunteers are going to have to clean that up. What we hope happens with all of these cases is that they have to clean up their own mess.”