Town Talk: Farmland site likely to be cleaned by end of August; roadwork, roadwork roadwork, including a closure of 31st Street; a sellout for Joplin tornado victims

News and notes from around town:

• If you have driven by the former Farmland Industries plant and wondered why the city has left several large boiler tanks standing near the front of the property, you are not alone. Did those tanks contain some type of hazardous material that the city wasn’t expecting? Is this where the city’s Farmland venture turns south? Nah. According to Matt Bond, the city engineer overseeing the cleanup of the 467-acre site, the tanks have sat longer than expected because they are going to be reused. Midwest Concrete Materials — which operates a concrete plant just south of the Farmland property — has purchased the tanks and plans to refurbish them as storage containers. In fact, the tanks are a pretty good example of how the entire cleanup has progressed. Work has moved a little slower than expected, but it largely has been without any major setbacks.

Tanks at the former Farmland Industries site are prepared for removal.

“I’m real pleased,” Bond said. “We haven’t hit any big ‘uh-oh’ moments.”

That was a concern when the city took over ownership of the property, which had suffered from years of contamination when it was a nitrogen fertilizer plant. But city officials were confident the environmental issues were well-known and manageable, and wouldn’t stand in the way of converting the property into a business park. So far, they’ve been right.

Of course, the cleanup isn’t over yet. Bond believes work will continue through the end of August. That is a couple of months longer than he originally thought, but it is still within the timeframe set in the contract the city has with local contractor R.D. Johnson Excavating.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment with the project has been that the amount of junk on the site hasn’t been as much as people thought. The city is getting a portion of the money from all scrap metal that is sold from the site. Bond thought there was a chance that 2,000 tons of scrap metal would be salvaged from the property. If that was the case, the city would have recouped all but about $45,000 of its cleanup costs. As it turns out, that 2,000 ton level probably will be a bit high. Bond didn’t have exact figures immediately available when I talked with him, but it looks like the site will produce more than 1,000 tons of scrap metal but less than 2,000 tons.

Environmentalists, though, should take heart. Bond said the majority of the material being removed from the site is being recycled. A big part of that has been the concrete that R.D. Johnson crews have torn out from the site and reduced to rubble so it can be used as construction aggregate on future job sites.

• You must be driving with your eyes closed if you haven’t noticed that road construction activity has picked up significantly in the last few weeks. Sixth Street and the downtown area will be a center for that activity for awhile. Work has begun on repaving Sixth Street from Mass. to Iowa. Currently, the focus is on the section from Massachusetts Street to Kentucky Street. The road remains open but has reduced lanes during construction. That portion of the project should take about three weeks to complete. But don’t expect the area to be free of orange cones. The city has learned that the state plans to repave the Kansas River bridges in downtown as well. That project is expected to begin as the Mass. to Kentucky street repaving is completed. If that is not enough for you, there are several other projects underway or planned. Here are just three to watch for:

  1. Tennessee Street from 10th to 19th streets will be entirely shut down for repaving for a time in July. Beginning July 18, crews will mill the street, allowing one lane of traffic on the one-way street. On July 19, the stretch of street is expected to be entirely closed while crews lay new asphalt. The closure is expected to last for just one day.
  2. Motorists who travel east of town probably already know that the unofficial East Lawrence By-Pass has been shut down. Many motorists have used County Route 442 — which is old Kansas Highway 10 — as a back way into the city. But County Route 442 from just west of Eudora to just east of the East Hills Business Park is entirely closed. The county is doing complete resurfacing of the road, and work is not expected to be completed until the end of July. When the $1.1 million project is done, the road will have been stripped down to it original concrete surface installed in the 1930s, then overlaid with a specialize stabilizing form of asphalt. The road also will have four-foot wide, paved shoulders.
  3. Moving from the unofficial East Lawrence By-Pass to the unofficial South Lawrence Trafficway, the county will close the portion of 31st Street that runs through the Haskell and Baker Wetlands. The portion of 31st Street from Louisiana to Haskell will be completely closed beginning July 18. The repaving project is expected to keep the road closed through August 3. But when the project is done, that stretch of 31st Street will feel more like the unofficial South Lawrence Trafficway than ever. In addition to getting two new inches of asphalt, the road also will have six foot-wide paved shoulders. Crews will take care to make sure Wakarusa Township is able to get trucks in and out of its adjacent fire station, but all other traffic on the road will be prohibited. The project is expected to cost about $385,000. How long the road will last will be interesting to watch. Under the current plans for the South Lawrence Trafficway, that portion of 31st Street will be removed and will be replaced by a new 32nd Street just a bit south. Of course, people have made a career out of waiting for the South Lawrence Trafficway to be completed.

• Some folks in the social services arena may know Lawrence resident Steve Ozark as an organizer extraordinaire. He’s been working for years to organize area churches to help the homeless and others who are in need. But Ozark also is a leading member of the popular band Sellout, which bills itself as a ’70s and ’80s retro band that “proudly presents cheese wrapped cheese, dipped in cheese.” Now, Ozark’s band life and social service life are colliding. At 8 p.m. Saturday, Sellout will play special benefit concert at the Bottleneck, 737 N.H., to benefit victims of the Joplin and Reading tornadoes. The event — titled Jamming for Joplin — will donate 100 percent of the $7 entrance fee to the local United Way offices that serve Joplin and Reading. The concert also will feature a silent auction that will include passes to Worlds of Fun Water Park and two tickets to any KU home basketball game.