Gov. Laura Kelly participated in a groundbreaking ceremony at the future Panasonic Energy project in November 2022 on the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant recently annexed into De Soto. She was joined by Panasonic executives from Japan and North America, Kansas leaders and the Japanese consul general.
Johnson County is taking a few steps toward establishing a new firehouse in the Northwest Consolidated Fire District with hazardous materials response capabilities to serve the redevelopment of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
At the time, staff suggested more would likely be needed to actually bring the fire station online. But now, with just about two years before Panasonic’s electric car battery plant opens for business, work has to begin soon, assistant county manager Joe Connor said.
On Thursday, the county commission voted 5-2 to authorize the creation of the fire service project and begin spending some of the money already set aside on things like land surveys, design and other early things.
“[There are] a lot of things that are fluid, in progress that we're working on,” Northwest Consolidated Fire Chief Todd Maxton said this week. “This takes us to the next level.”
The money the county plans to spend comes from the countywide support fund, which is made up of federal COVID-19 relief and reimbursement.
THE DIVISION AND THE URGENCY
Though some commissioners said they had some difficulty with the proposal — particularly given the amount of incentives the state and city of De Soto have kicked in for the Panasonic development alone — others felt some urgency in getting it approved. Two years, Connor said, isn’t a long-time when it comes to building a firehouse, staffing it up and getting it response-ready.
“We have to have fire service when that thing opens,” he said. “We're getting to the point now where it's going to be hard to get something done and get something out of the ground in about a two year period if we don't get started now.”
District 4 commissioner Janee Hanzlick outlined her view that it’s the county government’s imperative to ensure fire protection and other public safety services for every corner of the county regardless of the other circumstances at play.
“No matter what we think of the project,” she said, “it's our responsibility to ensure appropriate fire safety in our community.”
Infrastructure is a major concern in the next phases of the planned $4 billion Panasonic Ene…
Additionally, the firehouse, though expected to be specialized for fighting fires in highly volatile industrial settings, could also serve corners of De Soto previously on the edge of existing services.
The issue isn’t entirely settled yet. More decisions about the fire service will likely come before the commission down the line, and Johnson County will have to reach an agreement with either Panasonic or Sunflower Redevelopment, LLC, to help pay for the actual fire operation.
“In my viewpoint, this cooperative effort is the way to come to a successful conclusion for all the questions and elements that are involved,” chair Ed Eilert said.
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