Proposed Lakeside Amphitheater Seeks to Bury the Waste

From the July-August 2014 PNL #836

by Andy Mager and Jack Ramsden

“Not good enough” is our response to the overall “clean-up” plan for Onondaga Lake. The current proposal to construct an amphitheater atop the massive wastebeds (up to 80 feet deep) on the lake’s west shore is simply the latest step in the ongoing efforts to mask the depth of the toxic problems facing the lake and our communities. It builds on the narrative—heavily funded and loudly trumpeted by Honeywell’s well-oiled public relations apparatus—that “the lake clean-up is nearly complete.”

Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation has long called for a more thorough and holistic remedy for Onondaga Lake. We do so as concerned citizens who value the lake for its ecological importance and benefits to people, as well as part of our work as good neighbors to the Onondaga Nation. The Onondaga have consistently challenged the plans put forth and adopted by Honeywell, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


We join others in the community in celebrating the accomplishments made thus far at Onondaga Lake. Sewage plant upgrades have been effective, agricultural runoff has been reduced and sewage overflows are being addressed through green and grey infrastructure improvements. However, much work remains to restore the lake to its ancient beauty and health. We are particularly concerned that the lake bottom clean-up plans will leave in place about 80% of the sediments contaminated with highly toxic mercury, benzene, PCBs, dioxin and other hazardous wastes.

Clean Up, Not Cover Up


The proposed amphitheater and associated public review process offer an opportunity to press for a more thoughtful restoration of the west shore of the lake and to challenge the larger narrative. The County’s design includes an amphitheater with covered and lawn seats (capacity 17,500 people), a festival area, a smaller outdoor community theater and a “nature” area and recreational trails. There is already growing concern about the environmental, economic and social aspects of this proposed project.

In April, Tadodaho Sid Hill asked the Post-Standard, “How are you going to clean it up if you keep covering it up?” The plans call for building the amphitheater on top of Wastebeds 1-8, which include the old Crucible landfill. In comments on the County’s Draft Scoping document, attorney Joe Heath requested on behalf of Onondaga Nation “that Wastebeds 1 through 8 be completely removed by the responsible parties, and this large shoreline area be fully restored to a more natural state, including the construction of many acres of wetlands. If such removal and restoration were accomplished, then this area could be made into safe and usable park land.”

Other Concerns

The impetus for the amphitheater proposal came in part from a desire to access state funds for a large infrastructure project (after the suggested “new Dome” idea collapsed). There is a great rush to move this ahead, including the passage of state legislation to allow for an expedited “design/build” process. We need to slow the process down so the issues can be fully considered.

The project relies on a Superfund “clean-up” plan for the wastebeds that has yet to be designed to protect the public (especially young children) from dangerous exposure to site contaminants, including undocumented industrial wastes. EPA says that construction workers developing the site should wear protective clothing and equipment because of health risks from exposure to contaminants.

Construction and operation of this facility are expected to create extreme noise levels, violating DEC and local standards in some areas. Heavy traffic, vibrations, and light pollution may also negatively impact wildlife and the nearby communities of Solvay and Lakeland.  The economic viability of this project is questionable, given expected competition from other regional venues and the lack of a concrete business plan. The County assumes, rather than demonstrates, that there will be economic benefits for nearby communities.

What You Can Do:

Help turn the significant public skepticism about this project into a force capable of preventing it from moving forward, and do so in a way that reopens up the fundamental question of a full clean-up and restoration of Onondaga Lake.

Learn more about the issue and share information with family, friends and neighbors. Full details at

Submit comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (July 9-August 11) and attend the public hearing on July 23 at 11 am in the Legislative Chambers of the County Courthouse, 401 Montgomery St, Syracuse.

Andy and Jack are members of the NOON Steering Committee.