Environmental Cleanup Program: Wichita, KS – 1992 Innovations Winner
Long-undetected groundwater contamination, discovered in 1990, by the Kansas Department of Health and Environmental Protection, has a potentially catastrophic economic impact on downtown Wichita, Kansas. The four-mile long, one-and-a-half-mile wide site centered at the corners of Gilbert and Mosley Streets lies in the heart of Wichita’s central business district. Although it did not provoke health concerns, the newly discovered contamination prompted lenders to cease making any financial commitments in the district. This case focuses on the strategic approach to this crisis taken by Wichita's city manager. Initially faced with two bad alternatives – forcing hundreds of businesses to share in the clean-up cost, or face designation of the area as a federal Superfund site, portending perhaps a decade of legal wrangling – Wichita creates a more palatable way out of the crisis. The case can be useful both for discussions of constituency-building and political strategy, and for discussions of U.S. federalism.