“There is an alignment, I guess, of the stars right now to try to keep the monitoring programs working together and to reduce redundancy,” said Ed Michalenko, president of the Onondaga Environmental Institute.
It seems that the alignment extends beyond monitoring programs. As Honeywell’s clean-up process continues to address the toxic chemicals that were left in the lake, the Metropolitan sewage treatment plant in Syracuse also continues to maintain healthy phosphorus and oxygen levels which has lead to a noticeable difference in the color and odor around the lake.
Meanwhile, Onondaga County and the city of Syracuse continue to work together to implement creative, green infrastructure programs. More than 50 projects around the city prevent sewage and stormwater overflow from entering the lake and polluting it further. Instead of collecting overflow water and sending it to the METRO plant to be treated and returned to the lake, the city and county have found useful ways to use the water.
“[Projects] range from parking lots that are done with porous pavement and plantings to the new green roof on the Oncenter, which is one of the biggest green roofs now in the northeast,” said County Executive Joanie Mahoney. “It has already been installed, and it will capture a million gallons of rainwater, annually. Right next door, we have a water re-use system that we’ve put into the War Memorial, and we’re saving the rain and making the ice for Syracuse Crunch hockey team out of rainwater. The owner of the Crunch, Howard Dolgon, will tell you they’re the only hockey team in the country that’s skating now on recycled rainwater.”
Onondaga County and Syracuse were named as one of the nation’s top-10 leaders in green infrastructure by the EPA in 2011.
A decade ago, Onondaga Lake was an embarrassment. It smelled, it was dark and foreboding, and it was a health hazard. With the recent clean-up progress, and creative leadership, Syracuse has begun to wake up to Onondaga Lake’s possibilities.
In 2000, the Onondaga Lake Partnership was formed to “[provide] a framework for government agencies to cooperate as they restore and conserve water quality, natural resources, and recreational uses of the Lake to the benefit of the public. OLP also fosters the participation of special interest groups, businesses, and educational institutions from the community,” according to onlakepartners.org.
“The city of Syracuse is one of the six agencies involved with the Onondaga Lake Partnership,” said Andrew Maxwell, Director of Planning and Sustainability for the city of Syracuse. He joins the EPA, the DEC, the County Executive, the Onondaga County Office of the Environment and the New York State Attorney General’s office.
The group has worked to educate the public about the lake, and coordinate efforts to improve it. The Onondaga Lake Partnership has worked with organizations such as SUNY ESF, the Onondaga Environmental Institute, the Onondaga Nation and many others who have contributed to the education of the community and improvement of the lake. While these entities continue to work together, the County Executive has taken a step forward in developing a formal visioning process for the future of Onondaga Lake.
Last year, Mahoney appropriated $20,000 to support F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse to lead community-wide visioning around Onondaga Lake.
“The proposal that I made to the legislature in my budget was that FOCUS is an organization that already exists that already engages the community in the topics that they are working on,” Mahoney said. “They have agreed to take the topic of the vision for the future of Onondaga Lake on for us.”
The visioning process would be two-fold, Mahoney said.
“There’s two parts to it,” she said. “A lot of documents have been created in the past talking about the lake – I’d like someone to bring those together, and I’d like to have somebody do outreach right now to talk about what the community wants, and then put the ideas that people have into an organized … list of projects that we can do, or a planning document for what we want to see, and also what we don’t want to see on the lake.”
“One of the only benefits that I see to having endured being the home of one of the most polluted lakes in the country is that as a result, the county owns 90 percent of the shoreline, which I think presents a tremendous opportunity for this community and I want to be careful going forward that we have a vision for where we want to be and we have careful planning,” Mahoney continued. “I’m here for this one moment in time. Many people who came before me have worked on cleaning the lake, and I’m sure people will come after me, and I don’t think that this decision about what we want the shoreline to be should be left to the individual that just happens to hold this office at this time. I want it to be a much broader conversation and a lot more input from the community at large.”
The county legislature passed the budget with a contingency, which means they will have to go back and revisit the topic before the funds will be released.
“I’m hopeful that the legislature will see what I do, and this is bigger than county government, this should be something that the community participates in at large,” Mahoney said.
As we discussed last week, the DEC has also committed to community visioning around the Camillus wastebeds, where Honeywell will be storing covered sediment from the lake bottom. Honeywell has also involved the community for input on the future of the shoreline that they own.
Passive recreation, with a focus on environmental conservation, seems to be a popular idea. Many people are vocal about their desire for an extension of Syracuse’s Creekwalk, a popular trail that connects Armory Square to Onondaga Lake. The ‘lake-loop’ could extend around the entire Onondaga Lake shoreline, but there are no firm plans. The future of the lake and its shoreline will be determined by public input.
“I think other communities around the country wouldn’t believe their good fortune if they had a lake as beautiful as Onondaga Lake,” Mahoney said. “With all of the shoreline, for the most part, in a natural state it’s a clean canvas for our community to decide what we want to do.”