By WILLIAM KATES
Associated Press Writer
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Onondaga Lake a sacred Indian waterway turned into a toxic stew through a century of municipal and industrial pollution would undergo one of the largest environmental cleanups in state history under a final $451 million plan presented Friday by state regulators.
But the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan met instant opposition from the Onondaga Indians, who say the five-mile long lake on Syracuse’s northeastern limits needs far more extensive remediation.
Meanwhile, Honeywell, which will pay for the cleanup, remained noncommittal about its support for the state plan, which it said represented “continued progress” in the lake’s cleanup.
“Honeywell will work with the DEC to reach agreement on a consent order. Cleanup of Onondaga Lake is long overdue,” said a statement released by the company. The statement noted the New Jersey-based company already has begun several smaller remediation projects involving Onondaga Lake.
Under the state plan, Honeywell would spend $451 million to dredge 2.65 million yards of contaminated sediment from the lake and cover 579 acres of the lake bottom with a cap of sand, gravel and other material. The cleanup would take 7 years. Honeywell has proposed a $237 million, 3-year plan to dredge 508,000 cubic yards and cap about 350 acres.
“Not only is it not an adequate plan, but capping will preclude any real cleanup, and, in the long run, will make it more difficult to do a thorough and proper cleanup,” said Joseph Heath, the Onondaga’s tribal counsel.
The Onondagas want nearly 22 million cubic yards of sediment dredged with a cap over the entire 2,329-acre lake bottom, a plan that would take 17 years and $2.3 billion to complete.
Much of the lake’s contamination is the legacy of the former Allied Chemical Co. complex that closed in 1986, leaving behind mercury and other contaminants. Honeywell merged with Allied in 1999 and became responsible for the pollution. Municipal sewage overflows also have dirtied the lake.
Onondaga Lake was once the spiritual center of the Onondaga Nation, one of the six upstate New York tribes that formed the Iroquois Confederacy. The great Onondaga Chief Hiawatha once canoed on its waters. In the late 19th century, the lake was ringed by grand resorts and amusement parks and was a popular sports fishery.
Today, it is the only lake in the country listed as a federal Superfund site.
The DEC’s plan is the culmination of a 16-year-old lawsuit against Onondaga Lake’s largest industrial polluter. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the plan in March.
The Onondagas raised concerns about the state’s cleanup plan in February, prompting the EPA to recommend the state delay its decision from April 1 to July 1 so the tribe could give its input. In April, an Onondaga delegation traveled to the company’s headquarters in New Jersey to urge officials attending the corporation’s annual meeting to completely clean up the lake.
The Onondagas also hired Stratus Consulting of Boulder, Colo., an environmental consulting firm that has worked with the United Nations, World Bank and EPA, to assess the state’s proposed plan. Stratus submitted a report to the DEC Wednesday calling its plan inadequate.
“They would leave so many toxics in the bottom of the lake that it would still be a Superfund site,” Heath said.
DEC Acting Commissioner Denise Sheehan defended the state plan, saying it will allow officials “to move forward in our efforts to restore the lake to its full potential.” The DEC plan will protect human health and the environment, she said.