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Work begins on complicated Kansas River waterline project; Pachamamas ends lunch service but adds new happy hour concept

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If you have driven through North Lawrence recently, you've probably noticed a bunch of heavy-duty boring equipment on the lot just north of Sonic. Perhaps you were like me and assumed it was gastrological equipment related to my upcoming summer season of Sonic hot dog eating. But no, this equipment is for a project even more impressive than what I can do to a couple dozen hot dogs in an hour.

Construction crews have begun a project to bury a huge waterline underneath the Kansas River. The line will run from the Kaw Water Treatment Plant near Burcham Park on the south side of the river, under the river and into North Lawrence. The city hopes to have the project completed before the fourth quarter of the year, although flooding on the river could change that timetable a lot.

The $5.6 million project is designed to provide a second source of drinking water to North Lawrence. Currently, the only water line that runs into North Lawrence is an old line that is connected to the bottom of one of the Kansas River bridges in downtown Lawrence.

"We think it is a pretty important project," Dave Wagner, the city's director of utilities, told me. "We've had two leaks under the bridge over the last couple of years."

It is an interesting project too. As someone who briefly made a living by burying things (you're crazy if you think I'm going to tell you what or where), the details of this project have been impressive.

Construction crews will bore a hole 70 feet below the water level of the Kansas River. That's the depth engineers have determined there is a solid layer of sandstone that can be used to support the pipe.

This is the type of project that you only want to do once, so city officials aren't being skimpy on the size of pipe that will run beneath the river. Plans call for the pipe to have an inside diameter of 36 inches. For comparison's sake, the pipe that runs under the Kansas River bridge is 16 inches. Engineers report this new pipe will be the largest single pipe in the city's water distribution system.

Part of the reason for such a large pipe is that, eventually, the city plans to serve not only North Lawrence with the waterline but also parts of southeast Lawrence, including the new Lawrence Venture Park. Sometime between 2019 and 2025, the city plans to run another waterline underneath the Kansas River, except this one will be under the river near the eastern edge of the city. That line, which will be connected to the North Lawrence line under construction now, will help ensure the growing southeast portion of the city has plenty of water for the future. City officials are recommending the river approach because it will be less disruptive than running a large water line through a ton of existing neighborhoods between the Kaw Water Treatment Plant and southeast Lawrence.

But back to the current project for a moment. A city official did recently ask an engineer an interesting question: What happens if there is a leak in the pipe under the river?

The short answer: That wouldn't be good. Engineers said that is why they have spent a lot of time thinking about the right pipe to use for the project. The pipe is a special PVC pipe that is molecularly fused together, said Philip Ciesielski, assistant director of utilities for the city.

Ciesielski said the city has a key goal with this project: "We'll pull this pipe through, and hopefully nobody will ever see it again."

I know I've certainly said something similar about the 24th hot dog.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I'll admit that hot dogs perhaps aren't the best choice day-in-and-day out. For finer dining, downtown lunch-goers have long turned to Pachamamas at 800 New Hampshire St. But Pachamamas for lunch is no longer an option. The restaurant ended its lunch service earlier this week.

But fear not, Pachamamas is still very much alive and well, said owner and chef Ken Baker. Baker told me he simply wanted to focus on dinner, catering and an expanded happy hour concept. Baker said being one block off Massachusetts Street made lunchtime trade difficult at times.

"It is something we may revisit in the future as more projects are built on New Hampshire Street and more more foot traffic is generated," Baker said.

But for now, Baker hopes customers take to the idea of an early happy hour. Plans call for happy hour to take place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. In addition to drink specials, the kitchen will produce small plate specials such as lamb meatballs with a sheep's milk yogurt sauce, house-made pimento cheese, and grilled flatbread with mozzarella and parmesan.

Dinner service will begin at 5 p.m and last until 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. In addition to the change in lunch, the other big change for the restaurant is that it now will be open on Mondays. Previously, it was closed on Mondays.

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