Syracuse Post Standard
By Delen Goldberg
They stood at South Salina and Castle streets holding signs that read, “EPA and DEC: Do the right thing!” and “I want to swim in Onondaga Lake.” They chanted, “Fire it up, ready to go!” and cheered through bull horns.
Most importantly, the group of residents and environmental advocates gathered Monday on Syracuse’s South Side pledged to keep fighting projects they say discriminate against minority and low-income communities.
“We come together today as one community to fight for fairness for our neighbors,” said Carol Baum, a member of the Syracuse Peace Council.
The group of about 50 gathered to protest both the construction of the Midland Avenue sewage treatment plant and cleanup plans for Onondaga Lake – projects the advocates say violate residents’ civil rights and exemplify environmental racism.
After a rally next to the old Sears building, the group climbed onto a bus and visited the sites in question. The trip marked one leg of the Environmental Justice for All Tour, a national tour taking place this week to shed light on issues of environmental justice.
“We want to bring national attention to the issues in Syracuse and call attention to communities of color and low-income communities being shortchanged,” said Mark Mitchell, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice and a tour organizer.
Several South Side residents complain that state and county officials gave them no say in the decision to build a sewage treatment plant in their neighborhood. They argue that a similar plant never would be built in a rich, white neighborhood.
“We realize something has to be done, but we also realize that it’s not being done correctly,” said Louise Poindexter, a member of the Partnership for Onondaga Creek.
“We don’t want a sewage plant in our front yard,” added Vernell Bentley, who was forced from her Blaine Street home so it could be razed to make way for sewer pipelines. “If we were white, they wouldn’t do that.”
Members of the Onondaga Nation joined the tour to rally support for a better lake cleanup plan.
“We’re just not satisfied with the word ‘cleanup,’ ” said Tadadaho Sid Hill, spiritual leader of the Onondaga Nation. “It’s more like a cover-up. It just doesn’t seem right that you can leave all this toxic material in the lake and say it’s going to be all right.”
The Northeast portion of the Environmental Justice for All tour kicked off Sunday in Buffalo. Tours taking place around the country will converge Sunday in Washington, D.C., to flood Capitol Hill with calls for environmental justice and health protections for all communities.
Organizers said they hope the tour gets the word out about environmental justice, encourages people to become involved and helps pressure lawmakers into giving constituents a voice.
“It’s a sad state of affairs because all these people are being adversely affected,” said Theodore Carrington, a tour member and second vice president of the New Jersey branch of the NAACP.