Six-year-old D’Kyiah Sylvan loves cheerleading and macaroni cheese. She also likes playing outside, but asthma often keeps her indoors.
Whenever D’Kyiah’s mother steps outside her building in the Cloverleaf Apartments, she wonders whether some of her daughter’s symptoms have been caused by emissions from the asphalt plant she can see a few hundred yards from their home on the south edge of Kansas City.
“Over the last year (the asthma) has gotten worse,” D’Nesha Sylvan says.
The Ideker asphalt plant, at Interstate 49 and Missouri 150, has put Grandview, a community of 25,000 people, at odds with Kansas City, which initially authorized a portable plant at that location, and the state of Missouri, which has issued a permanent permit.
The city of Grandview and the nonprofit Concerned Citizens for Clean Air Inc. have sued the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, hoping to keep the plant from becoming a permanent fixture at Grandview’s doorstep.
Officials with the city and the Grandview School District, as well as some private citizens, fear that emissions from the plant might hurt the health of residents and students at two elementary schools, Belvidere and Butcher-Greene. D’Kyiah is a kindergartner at Butcher-Greene.
Opponents also worry that the plant could impede development in a growing area of south Jackson County.
Kansas City health officials say no concerns were raised before the first permit was issued, and no official complaints were filed with the city after it consulted with Grandview later in the process.
Dan Boulware, attorney for St. Joseph-based Ideker, said the company’s side hasn’t been told.
“The plant has been operating for years in multiple jurisdictions, and it has passed every air-quality test wherever it is,” he said. “This plant has passed requirements in Kansas City and in Missouri.
“It’s as clean as any in the state and fully meets requirements that the state requires. Ideker wants to be a good neighbor.”
In mid-2012, with the blessing of the state, the Kansas City Health Department issued a permit for a portable plant. But Grandview public works director Dennis Randolph contends that his city didn’t have a say.
Landowners and some Grandview officials attended a meeting, he said, but the issue was settled before they got there.
“We wonder if they looked at the ambient air and winds blowing emissions at the school,” Randolph said. “We don’t think they looked at that, and that’s all we wanted at the beginning.”
Health department spokesman Jeff Hershberger said few requirements or standards need to be considered with temporary two-year permits, but Kansas City officials did review all environmental aspects before granting one.
“We received no complaints ... that might trigger a more in-depth study prior to approval,” Hershberger said.
Requests for a permanent location go to the state and are outside the city’s jurisdiction, Hershberger said.
Last year, upon learning that a permanent plant permit was in the works, Grandview officials brought questions to the health department, Hershberger said. At that time, he added, a city engineer met with Grandview officials to provide a “direct contact line for any concerns or complaints.”
“No odor, dust or environmental complaints about the facility have been received by the health department,” he said, referring to complaints about specific potential hazards.
Nevertheless, Grandview officials say they have repeatedly raised concerns about both the permitting process and potentially harmful emissions.
“We told DNR we didn’t think the process to issue the permit was properly followed,” Randolph said.
Experts hired by Grandview say the state agency may have used outdated standards for required air-monitoring reports. According to Randolph, the plant’s particulate matter exceeded federal limits when combined with other airborne matter, including that coming from nearby highways.
“We haven’t seen anything that they considered these things,” Randolph said.
Kathy Wilson Sutoris is the third generation of her family to have lived and worked in Grandview. The former Grandview School District teacher was attending a town meeting about the asphalt plant last year when she stepped up to lead a group that became known as Concerned Citizens for Clean Air.
“We had to educate ourselves,” she said.
Long-term breathing difficulties are her biggest concern.
“My heart and soul is here, and I know most of the children in town,” she said.
Grandview and Concerned Citizens outlined their objections in a lawsuit filed Oct. 11 against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. In addition to particulates, they also raised concern about pollutants such as sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides.
Jackson County Circuit Judge Jack Grate issued a temporary restraining order in October to keep the state from issuing a permit for a permanent facility.
Now Ideker wants to join the case and has filed papers to have Grate held in contempt.
In late December the Missouri Supreme Court kept the restraining order in place, and the Missouri Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments March 12 to see if Ideker can join the case. That issue must be decided before the suit is judged on its merits.
“Nothing is going to happen until the appeals court rules,” said Bruce Morrison of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, who is helping Grandview with the lawsuit.
The state, however, did issue a permit effective in January, but opponents are questioning its validity given the legal situation. When asked for comment, the state did not go beyond acknowledging that the permit had been issued after the restraining order had expired.
Grandview School Superintendent Ralph Teran recalls seeing the asphalt plant’s smokestack sticking up in the distance and calling Grandview City Hall.
“I remember that it looked really crazy (out of place) and knew that it was less than a mile from two elementary schools,” he said.
He also thought about the Cloverleaf Apartments and the families, many lower-income, who might be affected by emissions.
“A lot of our kids and parents live there,” he said. “We aren’t prepared to say conclusively this is causing harm, but it may be.”
Robert Schreiber, a chemical and environmental engineer and president of the firm Schreiber, Yonley and Associates, said in an affidavit that preliminary modeling for the plant would exceed the federal air-quality standards.
Two doctors — Daniel Berg of St. Louis and Jennifer Lowry of Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City — gave input in other affidavits based on Schreiber’s words.
Surrounding residents could see adverse effects including “aggravation of respiratory,” “decreased lung function, asthma attacks and certain cardiovascular problems,” Berg’s statement reads.
Lowry offered that, based on Schreiber’s conclusions, the “plant will have a great impact on the elderly and children. Concerning children, their lungs are not fully mature until late adolescence or early adulthood.”
In the middle of Jim Giblin’s property sits the Ideker asphalt plant. His grandfather sold the 14 acres years ago to a friend who was going to build an office complex. That didn’t happen, and Ideker acquired the land.
“I can’t do anything with the property now with the clouds of fumes,” he said.
Giblin, a building contractor from Stilwell in Johnson County, first heard about the plant in July 2012 when he and other landowners received letters announcing a city planning meeting. He thought he would be able to protest, but it was too late. Officials assured everyone at the meeting there wouldn’t be any problem with the plant, Giblin said.
“It was potentially a very valuable piece of commercial real estate,” he said.
He sees the plant as out of place in an area where many, including the Department of Transportation at Missouri 150, Honeywell and CenterPoint/Kansas City Southern have invested money.
“What I saw was office/warehouse space that would add to the area, and Grandview got screwed,” he said.
Superintendent Teran wonders about economic consequences, too.
“It’s a downer for development, and I can’t understand why the city of Kansas City allowed it in that location when it could be the gold southern coast of Kansas City,” he said.
Ideker attorney Boulware says the company has followed all guidelines and noted its reputation in Missouri and Kansas highway projects.
The land where the plant is located was already zoned for heavy industrial use when Ideker moved in, Boulware says.
“There will come a time when we have the opportunity to make our case in court and what we prefer is to get a fair shake,” he said.
When asked specifically about federal air-quality requirements, Boulware said he couldn’t get into the technicalities.
“The other side doesn’t understand this plant, and they are making accusations that are wrong,” he said. “This plant is as clean as any in the state and does not emit emissions that some other plants do.”
And anyone who wants to talk about proximity to hospitals or schools should check out other asphalt plants across the metropolitan area, he added.
“The state has issued a permanent permit in full accordance of the law,” he said. “I would hate for people to make assumptions.”