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Meet Syracuse activist Louise Poindexter

On a drive down Midland Avenue in Syracuse's Southwest neighborhood, Louise Poindexter pointed out where dozens of families used to live before the buildings were demolished to make way for the Midland sewage plant.

"One lady was living here for 19 years," she said. "The city comes in and says, 'you got to move.' What do you mean, I got to move?"

Poindexter is a community activist on the south side of Syracuse. She is a driving force behind the Partnership for Onondaga Creek (POC), a group that fought the construction of the sewage plant.

She said that in the Southwest neighborhood, more than 40 families were forced out of their homes because of the plant, and that very few were offered fair compensation.

"I got my house. You may say it's raggedy, and in some places it is raggedy," she said. "But it's my house. It's where I live."

The plant was built over community objections, and began operations in early 2008.

It has far surpassed an original projected cost of $75 million; so far, taxpayers have doled out $179 million, including $57 million last year for a pipeline extension. And, Poindexter is quick to point out, it's not fully finished yet.

Though the POC failed to prevent construction, Poindexter said the plant's size was halved, and much of it was put underground.

"It was a failure," she said, "but it showed people we could get something done."

Poindexter, who lives with her son and three grandchildren on Palmer Avenue, has spent much of the last 30 years grappling with the government on housing, education, crime and the environment. Before POC, she was a long-time member of Syracuse United Neighbors.

Phil Prehn, a community organizer with that organization, said she "instinctively understood" the issues confronting poor neighborhoods.

"With Louise, you just have to say, 'here's what's wrong,' and she's already got three ideas, probably good ones."

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