Town Talk: West Lawrence restaurant closes; Famous Dave’s close to making announcement; Glass recycling at Farmland possible

News and notes from around Lawrence and Douglas County:

• The struggle for a shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive to establish an anchor restaurant tenant continues. Mia’s Italian Restaurant, 1540 Wakarusa, appears to have closed. Although there is no sign, the front doors of the building were locked with a padlock and chain during the lunch hour on Tuesday. Sources in the area said the restaurant has been closed for the last couple of weeks. Mia’s is at least the third restaurant to try to make a go of it at the location. Tanner’s Bar and Grill and Zig & Mac’s Sports Bar & Grill both have opened and closed at the location in recent years. No word yet on whether a new tenant is lined up for the space.

The shopping center, though, is still trying to get a food presence going. Lawrence-based El Mezcal has a restaurant in a separate spot in the strip center. The center also is working to get an evening crowd going with The Shenago Lounge, a longtime Lawrence bar that was at 2907 W. Sixth St. for years.

• While we’re on the subject of restaurants, I expect to soon get official confirmation of the long-simmering rumor that Famous Dave’s BBQ is coming to Lawrence. An executive with Famous Dave’s told me today that the company’s marketing firm was preparing an announcement, although he stopped short of confirming the restaurant will go into the former Hereford House location at Sixth and Wakarusa. Keep an eye on Town Talk for the details. Also we’re keeping an ear open to whether Old Chicago, which we reported closed its location near 23rd and Iowa, is looking for a new spot in Lawrence. Talk among employees at the restaurant was that Old Chicago did not want to leave the Lawrence market but wasn’t able to continue on at its longtime location.

• City Hall officials are giving some thought these days on how they can promote glass recycling in Lawrence. Chuck Soules, director of public works, confirmed that the city has thought about how it could use one of the large vacant buildings at the former Farmland Industries plant to be a glass bottle warehouse for a privately operated glass recycling program. Soules mentioned Kansas City-based Ripple Glass as a possibility.

Recycling glass in Lawrence has been an up-and-down affair. Recycling centers at times have had to suspend glass collection, and the Deffenbaugh Curbside Recycling program does not accept glass. Glass has been a recycling challenge, in part, because when it breaks it contaminates other recyclable material. It also is an expensive product to ship very far. But if a warehouse could be developed where large loads could be assembled, that could reduce shipping costs. Ripple is a likely candidate because it has a ready-made buyer for recycled glass. The company sells much of its product to an area Owens Corning plant that uses it to make fiberglass insulation.

• Why would there be any buildings left on the Farmland site, since city commissioners just approved a demolition contract for the property? Good question. As we previously reported, four buildings on the site will remain. They include the large “Bag House” building that sits along North 1500 Road, two nitrate warehouses, and the plant’s former laboratory building which will be used as an office for demolition and environmental monitoring activities. Other than the laboratory building, none is really visible from Kansas Highway 10.

The city has said some of the warehouse buildings could be used for salt and sand storage, and indoor parking spots for key pieces of city equipment. But the buildings also may get wrapped up in the city’s large discussion about trash services. If the city does decide to operate its own curbside recycling program, it likely will need a facility where curbside materials can be sorted, or at least transferred to larger trucks to be hauled to Kansas City. The warehouses, which are large open buildings, may end up fitting the bill.

• One last item about Farmland, for now. The site may end up providing an example of how ironic life can become. When I was touring the site a few weeks ago, the city engineer overseeing its clean-up told me a story that stuck with me. The property, as has been well documented, has contaminated groundwater. It basically has groundwater that is laced with nitrogen fertilizer. The city’s role in cleaning up the water is to pump it from the ground to ensure it doesn’t spread to neighboring properties. Eventually — probably over the course of several decades — the nitrogen levels will drop to where they are no longer a problem. In the meantime, the city has to do something with the water. The solution thus far has been to pump it through an existing pipeline to North Lawrence, where it is used by a half-dozen farmers or so who get the benefit of fertilizer-enhanced water to irrigate their fields.

Already, nitrogen levels have started to drop some. The levels are still too much to satisfy state health environmental standards, but at some point the levels may be too low to interest farmers who use the water as a fertilizer. Farmers probably always will be interested in the water during dry periods. But during wet years, the main benefit of the water is its fertilizer content. If the fertilizer content is low, farm fields would have to be drenched to the point that they would often be too wet to work. So, all this brings up an ironic possibility. At some point in the future — probably not real soon — the city may have to pump the water and then inject some nitrogen fertilizer back into it in order to keep farmers interested. There probably are other possibilities, but it is an issue the city will have to keep an eye on. One thing that is certain: The city will have millions and millions of gallons of water that it will have to move off site each year. It certainly doesn’t want to have to pay someone to take the water.

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