Opponents say the proposal may not keep pollutants from lake.
By Delen Goldberg
The state Department of Environmental Conservation wants to spend two years and $20.2 million dredging, capping and filling 15 acres of land in and around Nine Mile Creek and Geddes Brook.
State officials say that excavating 59,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will provide a relatively cheap, safe and effective way to clean up the tributaries and stop pollution from flowing into Onondaga Lake.
But environmentalists worry that if the proposal is approved, the very contaminants that engineers will remove from the creeks could eventually make their way into the lake.
The DEC plans to dredge soil from Nine Mile Creek and Geddes Brook and dump it at the former LCP Chemicals site off Bridge Street in Geddes – the exact spot where the contaminants originally came from.
Allied Chemical’s LCP plant made chlorine. During its heyday in the mid-1900s, it dumped up to 20 pounds of mercury a day into Onondaga Lake and its feeders.
“The dredgings from the various areas of the creek will be left right within the
same area,” said Joseph Heath, an environmental advocate and lawyer for the Onondaga Nation. “We think that’s very problematic. We think they ought to clean it up.”
Heath and others instead would like to see the toxic soil trucked to a landfill near Rochester, where it can be properly contained.
The DEC defended its choice, saying that equipment at LCP, including 15 pumping wells already in place, will treat the dredged sediment and wastewater to prevent any contaminants from returning to the creeks or lake.
“The containment area is designed to accommodate soil and sediment material such as from Geddes Brook and Nine Mile Creek,” DEC spokeswoman Stephanie Harrington said. “They’ve chosen the LCP site as the preferred disposal option because it’s proven and reliable . . . and protects human health and the environment.”
Use of the LCP site also will prevent 17,000 truck trips to Rochester, DEC officials said.
Still, Heath and others maintain that LCP’s safeguards “are less than perfect” and can fail. Plus, Heath said, operation and maintenance of the equipment are costly and ongoing.
“We keep seeing the DEC sign off on remedies that come back to haunt us 20 or 30 years later,” Heath said. “What it illustrates is that the calculations made today may not be accurate, may not be scientifically as fully vetted as they should be. Every time we leave these kinds of toxics in place, we have the distinct possibility, and probability we think, that it will harm our children.”
While environmental advocates say the DEC’s plan is better than some other proposed options, they still would prefer a more comprehensive cleanup approach – one that would cost an additional $10 million. Under that model, the state would dredge even deeper into the creeks, opt out of using any barrier caps and remove all the waterways’ contaminants, not just mercury.
Nine Mile Creek and Geddes Brook, which meet near the state fairgrounds, are laden with arsenic, lead, PCBs and several other toxins in addition to mercury. The tributaries carry contamination into the lake, so they must be cleaned before work can proceed on the lake bottom.
A cleanup plan for Geddes Brook and Nine Mile Creek was supposed to be decided by Jan. 8, 2007, but a federal judge granted the DEC a 22-month extension after the state and Honeywell International revealed they couldn’t agree on standards for restoring the tributaries.