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Public hearing for Solvay amphitheater draws criticism

Ellen Abbott
Members of the Onondaga County Legislature listen to public comments regarding Solvay's $100 million amphitheater project.

The only scheduled public hearing on the proposed amphitheater project on Onondaga Lake drew mostly criticism Wednesday. The project, which has been fast-tracked by the state legislature, would put the concert venue on land that was used as a dumping place for industrial waste for years.

The hearing, held at 11 a.m., was meant to get comments on a 654-page document that outlines the potential environmental impact of the amphitheater, which the county wants to build on the old Solvay waste beds along the western shore of Onondaga Lake. Twelve speakers outlined concerns ranging from residual chemicals on the property to questions about why the county didn’t look at more possible locations for the concert venue. But if there was one overriding theme, Joe Heath, an attorney for the Onondaga Nation, nailed it.

“What’s the rush?” Heath asked.

Most of the speakers were professional advocates. But even those who weren’t, like retired teacher Jim Schulze, suggested more time for the review process.

"And that everybody get a chance that everybody feels as though they can be on board with a facility that is safe and helpful, and someplace you are going to feel very comfortable taking your family and friends,” Schulze said.

Alma Lowery, an environmental attorney, believes cramming the comment period during a busy time for families is poor planning.

“It’s a 30-day comment period in the middle of summer, people are on vacation, people are trying to manage their kids, and their camps and their family trips," Lowery said. "It’s really not adequate.”

And activist Andy Mager says it comes down to allowing the public more time to examine a 654-page environmental impact statement.

“We ask you to extend the time for consideration and comments, and to add additional public hearings,” Mager said.

Some lawmakers agreed, like Republican Kevin Holmquist of Manlius.

"This so called process is absurd," Holmquist explained. "To restrict the public input in 30 days is impossible to gather the information we need. This process should be a lot longer than that."

The county is taking comments through August 11, and expects to put out a revised environmental review document by November. Ultimately, plans are for the first concert at the amphitheater to take place at the end of next year. Legislature Chairman Ryan McMahon says he didn’t hear anything he hadn’t heard before the public session.

"I think there’s a lot of legitimate concerns," McMahon said. "Hopefully our engineers and our legal team will work with us to address those. If it’s determined we need some more time, the legislature will consider that.”

McMahon also says their decision will be based off of what kind of information is coming in.

"Are we seeing comments coming in?" McMahon explained. "Are we seeing no comments coming in?  If there are no comments coming in, that may say maybe we want to extend it. If we're seeing comments coming in and they are the exact same people who emailed before or came in today with the exact same comments, then we’re doing our job.”

The amphitheater is part of a $100 million revitalization project proposed for the western side of Onondaga Lake.