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Built to last? Will barrier wall stand the test of time?

Honeywell International and a variety of federal, state and local officials made a big splash in recent weeks when they announced a monumental plan to clean up Onondaga Lake. But the question remains -- will it work? And if so, for how long?

Honeywell, which inherited lake cleanup responsibilities after acquiring Allied Signal, has worked with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to devise a plan to rid the lake of its many pollutants and contaminants. A major part if this plan is now underway; approximately 46,000 square feet of interlocking steel panels, each two feet wide and 30 to 50 feet deep, are being driven into the ground to create a half-mile long underground barrier wall along the southwestern shoreline of Onondaga Lake.

Honeywell's groundwater treatment plant on Willis Avenue will soon begin treating contaminated groundwater that collects behind the wall. The first phase of construction of the barrier wall is slated for completion next summer.

The rest of the plan includes:

dredging and disposal of up to 2.65 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments, construction of an isolation cap over an estimated 425 acres in the shallower areas of the lake. This isolation cap would consist of several layers that would be anywhere from two to 10 feet thick; and

construction of a thin-layer cap over an estimated 154 acres in the lake's deepest areas, monitored natural recovery, wetland and habitat restoration, as well as long-term maintenance and monitoring. Once authorized this work is expected to take nine years to complete.

Will it work?

While some have praised the plan's merits, not everyone believes it will work.

"A barrier wall would not be necessary for this project if there was a plan to remove all of the contaminants," said Joseph Heath, a Syracuse lawyer who represents the Onondaga Indian Nation. "They are putting Band-Aids on the problem hoping it will work. This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem."

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