The battle to stop Onondaga County from locating a sewage treatment plant in the middle of a residential neighborhood on Syracuse's south side continues to gain support. Community groups and individuals from throughout Syracuse have lent a hand (and a voice) to the Partnership For Onondaga Creek. The coalition's goal is to force the County to re-think their plan to build a sewage treatment plant the size of a football field along Midland Avenue.
Nearly 100 people packed the Common Council chambers in City Hall at an evening public hearing on May 21st. 34 people spoke at the hearing, all of them asking the Council not to sell City-owned land to the County for the Midland plant. The Partnership also gave the Council a petition with over 800 signatures of local residents opposed to the sale of the land.
The Council has listened to its constituents on this issue in the past. Last year, the Council voted unanimously to deny the County an easement to do work on City-owned land. In April, the council added $20,000 to the city budget to fund a study on the primary alternative to the treatment plantselective separation of the city's combined storm and sanitary sewers.
The Partnership has made presentations on the possible alternatives to the treatment plant to many local organizations. In the last month alone, the Partnership has spoken to the First Unitarian Universalist Church, the Syracuse-Onondaga County chapter of the NAACP, Onondaga Park Association, a class at Syracuse University, the Greater Strathmore Neighborhood Association and a new coalition of park associationsCanopy.
The Onondaga Park Association voted to oppose the siting of the treatment plant at Midland Ave., sending its written statement to several elected officials and the local media, as well as speaking at the May 21st public hearing. The Association feels that the sewage plant site is incompatible with their plans to develop upper and lower Onondaga Park, particularly the creation of a botanical garden.
The NAACP is weighing whether to file a lawsuit against the County, charging that the treatment plant is an example of environmental racism. In the course of developing their sewage treatment plant plans, the County has shown nothing but contempt for the African-American community living near Midland Avenue. On the other hand, when debating the merits of a sewage treatment plant near Clinton Street, the County has shown nothing but concern for the affluent businessmen in Armory Square.
The Partnership is not merely a NIMBY group and we certainly support the concept that both Onondaga Creek and Lake ought to be cleaned up.
The problem with the County's proposed plan is three-fold:
1) It will increase the tax bill of every homeowner in Onondaga County.
2) It will rip apart a predominately African-American residential neighborhood.
3) It will do both of the aboveand still not clean the creek or the lake!
The Partnership for Onondaga Creek believes that environmentally sound alternatives to the sewage treatment plant exist. Not only will the alternatives cost less than the treatment plant, using several alternatives in combination will enable the County to treat residential neighborhoods with the respect they deserve. Using more appropriate environmental technologies will also enable the County to use Onondaga Creek as something other than a sewer. Many communities treasure urban waterways; clean lakes, creeks and ponds are the focal point for true urban renewal. The Partnership exists to challenge Onondaga County to have a broader vision for our community.
On March 29th, a forum on alternative visions for Onondaga Creek was held at South Presbyterian Church, sponsored by The Partnership, the Syracuse Peace Council, Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN) and Syracuse University Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflicts. More than 100 people shared dinner and discussions on alternative technologies such as selective separation of storm and sanitary sewer pipes, Living Machines (plants used to catch and biologically treat sewage waste) and creating wetlands for storm water runoff.
More and more people get involved in the struggle to stop this raw sewage treatment plant every day. When people learn how little concern the County has for residents of low income, racially diverse neighborhoods, they find the injustice intolerable. When people learn how the County's plan will not clean the creek or the lake up to Clean Water Act standards, they get angry. When people learn about the Partnership for Onondaga Creek, they join informed citizens reaching out across social, economic and city lines to remind Onondaga County and Nick Pirro that it's all about the people, and the people say NO!
If you would like to get involved with the Partnership, come to our weekly meetings Tuesday 5:30 PM at the SUN office 1540 S. Salina St. corner of W. Kennedy. Call for more information 476-7475
Phil Prehn works with SUN (Syracuse United Neighbors)
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