Commission to vote on land sale for roofing manufacturer

NEWTON—The Newton City Commission will vote Tuesday on whether to sell 230 acres of property at the Kansas Logistics Park to GAF Materials.

That’s according to the meeting’s agenda released Friday. As previously reported, the city earlier signed a letter of intent to sell the company the land at the price of $8,000 an acre ($1.84 million).

Details of what the company, the largest roofing materials manufacturer in the U.S., plans to build at the location have not been released. Harvey County Now reached out to both the city as well as the company for initial details about the plan.

“At this early stage in the process, no decisions have been made with respect to GAF’s intentions for developing the property,” Adrienne Teofrio, a GAF spokesperson, said.

The city also didn’t have additional details about the plans the company has for the land the city commission will vote to sell.

City Manager Kelly McElroy said the development process for the property has been different than what usually happens.

“We normally have done the land sale and development agreement all at once, or in very close succession, and would have had the ROI and other details available when the company was announced,” she said. “This project has progressed a bit differently by starting with the letter of intent for the land sale.”

The sale is functioning with the city serving as a pass-through in a transaction between the Tindall Company, which currently owns the land, and GAF Materials.

Tindall previously purchased the land from the city but never developed it, and the city obtained an option on the undeveloped property.

“By obtaining an option on the property and facilitating the sale, the city and county are able to recoup some dollars, as well as maintaining some influence over the property’s use to protect the community’s existing investment,” McElroy said. If the land were ever to revert back to farmland, for example, it would likely be very difficult for the city ever to reacquire it for industrial use, and the community’s investment in the infrastructure would be lost.”

According to notes from a June 2 city commission meeting, the city looks like it will come out about $650,000 ahead on the deal, as Tindall agreed to sell the land back to it for $1.19 million.

With no new information available on what will be built on the property, Harvey County Now searched for the recent development history of GAF Materials to try to provide the community with information about possible future development and community impact. Recent developments we could find were either warehouses or production of plastics and foam board insulation and materials involved in roofing.

New developments include:

•a plant built in 2021 in New Columbia, Pa., to create PolyISU (closed-cell, rigid foam board insulation), bringing 35 additional jobs.

•a warehouse facility built in 2020 in Michigan City, Ind., bringing an estimated 50 jobs.

•a thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) and polyisocyanurate (ISO) (roofing materials) plant built in Cedar City, Utah, completed in 2015, bringing in 40 to 55 jobs

•a plant producing thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) and polyisocyanurate (ISO) (roofing materials) built in 2013 in Gainsville, Texas.

•a plant built in 2012 in Statesboro, Ga., producing nail base roof insulation panels (foam board roofing material), bringing an estimated 50 jobs.

The company also does produce asphalt roofing materials.

In 2015, it had a proposed asphalt roofing manufacturing plant announced in Moberly, Mo., which it declined to construct, citing sluggish marketing conditions.

Since the announcement of the letter of intent to sell land by the city, Harvey County Now received several contacts from readers requesting more information in regard to potential environmental impacts the company might have.

Harvey County Now did search the EPA Toxic Release Inventory database for results relating to the previously listed facilities the company developed in the last 10 years. Entries in the cities where those developments are located were minimal, with the Statesboro, Ga., facility reporting 62 pounds of release a year and the Michigan City facility, two pounds.

Jim Healy of the Statesboro Herald said that the newspaper had received no complaints about Statesboro’s facility.

However, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, as well as the Dallas Observer and Dallas Morning News, have both chronicled community efforts in their cities to combat emissions from older asphalt roofing material plants owned by GAF materials.

A 2016, The Star Tribune article reported activists in Minneapolis pointed to research findings of higher asthma and cancer rates in the area near to where the company’s asphalt roofing plant is located; the researchers themselves did not point to a specific cause. The plant has operated in the area since 1935, according to the article.

According to another community paper, The Noreaster, the company, which serves northeast Minneapolis, committed to purchasing a $4 million regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO) to be installed by 2019.

The Dallas Observer said that the west Dallas asphalt plant was the largest producer of sulfur dioxide in all of Dallas County, according to 2019 Texas emissions data.

Sulfur dioxide can smell like eggs and is listed by the EPA as a cause of breathing and asthma problems. The Dallas site was operated by roofing material manufacturer Ruberoid Co. until the company merged with GAF and acquired its name in 1967, according to the Morning News.

Harvey County Now did ask Teofrio about the possible environmental impact of any new development and mitigation practices. The email also included questions about what made Newton attractive to the company.

“We do not have any additional updates at this time,” she said. “We will absolutely be in touch when we have updates to share.”

McElroy said that any new manufacturing plant built at the KLP would have to be built to current Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Environmental Protection Agency environmental standards.

“The city has been intentional about adopting land-use policies and zoning regulations that ensure compatibility with the surrounding area,” she said. “The KLP is located where it is—east of town for prevailing winds, surrounded by agricultural land and other industrial areas—because the community determined that is an appropriate location for industrial use. This helps avoid some of the conflicts other cities face when residential neighborhoods border industrial zones.”

City Commissioner Rod Kreie said he heard concerns about the environmental impact of future development. He said he had confidence that modern construction standards and stringent levels of emission permitting that are present at both the federal and state level would maintain and protect air quality in Newton, whatever the company would decide to build.

“Those are regulations that are needed,” he said. “Technology has come so far right now and emission regulations are so intense that the chances of it being a problem are very low.”

Kreie said that, as managing partner of Great Plains Biosciences group, he has worked with companies on issues of emissions permitting. He said often companies would spend more up front to mitigate emissions issues than deal with hefty fines from violating permitting.

Harvey County Now spoke with Gyanendra Prasai, chief of air permitting with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment about the permit process.

In general, should an industrial development produce any sort of air pollutants, it would apply to the state for approval or permitting.

As part of the process, the developer would submit what they believe their emissions would be in a worst-case scenario as well as other pertinent information.

The state would then review and evaluate the request before signing off or having the company enter a permitting process.

Larger emissions or considerations about nearby public impacts would trigger a permitting process. For instance, sulfur dioxide emissions larger than 40 tons annually would trigger permitting, according to state regulations.

With the process comes public notice of the pending permit, which would be published in local papers and on the KDHE website. If the state receives communication of public concern, it would begin a hearing process. The state would hear from those with concerns about the development and possibly work with the developer and those concerned to mitigate future impacts.

Still larger emissions would trigger federal regulations and review. Prasai said often companies work to mitigate pollution amounts to avoid triggering more onerous levels of regulation.

Violating the permitting process or proceeding without the proper paperwork in place could result in action from the state, including fines.

With no specific plans announced by the company, it’s unknown what, if any, permits it would be required to get.

The commission is slated to vote at its 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday night on whether to approve the plant.

Following the sale would be a development agreement.

“Again, as the project moves forward with a development agreement, we will be able to provide much more information about the return on investment for the community and be better able to evaluate the benefits,” McElroy said.

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