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Funds set aside for possible swimmable beach on Onondaga Lake


Onondaga County has the funds set aside that would create plans for a swimmable beach on Onondaga Lake.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney believes recent studies that have deemed parts of the lake is clean enough to swim in brings the reality of a beach closer.

"Onondaga County has a capital plan that it puts in front of the legislature that’s a five year long plan,” said Mahoney. “We have had in there the planning dollars to start the conversation about the beach.  Until now it hasn’t been as real.  And I think there might be real support among county legislatures to spend real money to design the beach.”

Two weeks ago, public officials, including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner, jumped off a boat into the waters at the northern end of the notorious lake.

It was a symbolic gesture, coordinated by a local Syracuse booster group called Believe in Syracuse, to take note of two different reports in the last year that say certain areas of the lake are safe for swimming.

In the wake of the swim party, Judith Enck, Environmental Protection Agency regional director, points out portions of the lake are still a Superfund site, and there are areas where storm water and untreated sewage flow into the lake, making it dangerous for swimmers. 

"I think it was premature to sound the all clear bell for swimming in Onondaga Lake. My great hope is we get there in the future, but we’re not there yet," said Enck.

Mahoney says this point of view shouldn’t dampen community enthusiasm.

"From their perspective, they want to be careful not to give the public the impression that it is all done, that the work is all done. It’s not all done. We know it’s all done. DEC from the state has weighed back in with the EPA and said, we understand there is still a lot of work to do, but please let the community celebrate the progress that has been made,” said Mahoney.

Onondaga Lake was once called the most polluted lake in the country. Millions of state, local and federal dollars have gone into cleaning the water for years, ravaged by industrial pollution and sewage runoff.