It was only six months ago that more than 20 Central New York Leaders jumped into Onondaga Lake to highlight the success of the cleanup thus far.
However, the Onondaga Nation says the lake is far from clean as two mishaps are now being made public.
It’s been more than a decade since the DEC ordered a cleanup for Onondaga Lake.
After Honeywell spent years dredging, or removing, toxins from the lake floor, the Onondaga Nation’s environmental attorney Alma Lowry says reports have uncovered two incidents that cause major concerns.
“The public is repeatedly told that the lake is being restored that we’re almost done that we’ve come to the end of the remediation, almost,” Lowry said. “We’re really just beginning. This is only Phase 1 of the remediation, the capping and dredging. We’re going to have to keep monitoring what’s happening on the lake for decades, for our generation, for our children’s generation in order to keep the lake safe and clean.”
Nation leaders have been questioning the effectiveness of Honeywell’s procedures since 2005.
“The only thing that’s holding those contaminants back is the cap,” Lowry explained. “Two parts of which have just slid into the lake in 2012 and 2014.”
Lowry says that future failures like these instances mean that “those contaminants are going to be exposed again, potentially re-entering the lake and re-contaminating our water column, our fish and our resources.”
From the start, the Nation has been following the timeline for the lake cleanup and it’s approaching that completion date.
However, Nation leaders say it’s only the beginning for the cleanup.
“We’re concerned about the propaganda that’s put out there,” said Tadodaho Sidney Hill, of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs. “They come out there and had a swimming exhibition and they say the lake is clean. Even Gov. Cuomo [is] talking about ‘the clean lake.’ It’s just not true. There’s so much more work that needs to be done to the lake.”
Honeywell issued the following statement to NewsChannel 9:
“Progress continues on the Onondaga Lake cleanup with capping more than 90% complete. The capping will restore and enhance habitat and is isolating the sediment from the aquatic environment.
“As can occur with any large construction project, issues may be encountered from time to time, and construction techniques are continually adapted to address them. Honeywell has been working under the supervision of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adjust the methods of placing the cap to address soft sediments. The details are available in Honeywell’s report submitted to DEC in October 2015 and EPA’s five-year review report. The capping is on schedule to be completed in 2016.”
The Nation stands by its initial concerns.
“By agreeing to the current remediation plan, New York state has essentially put its stamp of approval on the permanent use of this lake and its lakeshore as an industrial waste dump,” Lowry said. “The Onondaga Nation never consented to that use of its sacred lake and neither did its communities around the lakeshore.”
Although the efforts by Honeywell might have been a “good start,” Tadodaho Sidney Hill says it’s far from the solution.
Hill says the Onondaga Nation has been pushed back and denied access to the lake, but for all these years, he also says nothing can be used from the lake anyway — fish or medicines.
“We have lost touch with the lake,” Hill said.
He says the entire cleanup process needs to be re-evaluated.
Nation leaders say the DEC and Honeywell need to provide more information to the public about the cleanup progress and also the problems the project has run into.