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Onondaga Lake dredging stirs up controversy with Onondaga Nation

Ellen Abbott

The Onondaga Nation is not happy with the breadth of the Honeywell Corporation's plan to dredge and cap polluted sediment at the bottom of Onondaga Lake.

This $451 million plan will dredge an estimated two million cubic yards of toxic material from 185 acres out of the 3,000-acre lake bottom, and cap 14-percent of the lake bottom, to keep toxic chemicals underground. For the Onondaga Nation, which has been pushing for the lake clean up for years,  what little dredging is happening is a good thing, but ultimately, according to Nation Attorney Joe Heath, is not good enough.

"They're leaving about 80 percent of the toxic chemicals as well as mercury and 26 chemicals of concern, as they call them," said Heath.

Heath adds the nation has a number of concerns, including the effectiveness of capping toxic waste underground.

"The cap is as little as six inches of sand in some places, it goes as deep as six-feet in other places. But it's a temporary solution. The cap will fail eventually, given the excessive wave action in that lake. And in a generation or so, our children and grandchildren will have to clean up what Honeywell is leaving."

Heath remembers a government estimate in 2003, that it would cost $2.3 billion to clean the lake.  He contends the state settled on this remedy because it couldn't afford a long drawn out litigation with Honeywell.

"Well that's not good enough for this sacred lake, and it's not good enough for any of the people in central New York. It's particularly not good enough for the Onondagas and the the Haudenosaunee who have a sacred and historical relationship with the lake," said Heath.

The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation is holding a public information meeting Thursday, June 14 in the Martha Eddy Room of the Art and Home Center  at the State Fairgrounds. An open house will run from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., and a formal information session will follow at 6:00 p.m.