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Onondaga Nation expresses environments concerns about site of Lakeview Amphitheater

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
Lakeview Amphitheater

Onondaga County's Lakeview Amphitheater comes to life tonight for the first time, when country star Miranda Lambert takes the stage. Many in the community hail the entertainment venue, along the shores of Onondaga Lake, as an economic engine for years to come. But there are still environmental concerns from one front, about the choice to build a stage on top of 80 feet of industrial waste beds. 

"We’re very concerned that we have lost a chance to clean up next to the lake,” said Joe Heath, who has been the attorney for the Onondaga Nation for more than three decades.

He says the Onondagas’ concerns continue to lie in the fact that 80 to 90 percent of industrial waste, dumped by various companies over the years, still lines the west shore of what was once called the most polluted lake in the country.

"The lake will never be swimmable, really. The fish will never by edible. And instead of a natural shoreline, as it was before the industrialization, we’re going to have 80 feet deep waste, covered by carefully calculated amounts of material that probably our children and grandchildren will have to clean up.”

Heath says Onondagas also mourn the cultural loss of the lake, which they view as sacred. And their ultimate goal is to see it return to its natural state.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney has been pushing this project hard ever since the state proposed it a year and a half ago. She says she appreciates the Onondaga’s concern, but suggests their view of what to do with years and years of industrial waste is limited. And, she says, in order to get to that natural state, the pollutants would have to be moved somewhere.

“The nation’s perspective is the sacred Onondaga Lake and its shoreline. But from a bigger environmental perspective, we’re doing at this site exactly what we’d have to do if we moved this material somewhere else,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney says in all the testing done during construction, no toxic materials showed up. And she says she’s confident no pollutants will rise to the surface.  

Heath says that won’t stop the nation from continuing to press the community to consider that there are hotspots of industrial pollutants lurking beneath a venue that can host more than 17-thousand people.

"We’re going to continue to talk about the lake and the condition it was in before it was stolen from the Onondagas and they will get it back clean. That’s what they keep talking about," said Heath.

State, federal and county officials have all signed off on the plan that has capped years and years of industrial pollution in place below the amphitheater.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.