A Better Solution in the Works?

An Update on the Midland Avenue Sewage Treatment Plant

Meredith Perreault

Since December 2001, the City of Syracuse, Onondaga County, and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation have been meeting to find a solution for the combined sewer overflow (CSO) problem of Onondaga Creek. These discussions, which have also included Atlantic States Legal Foundation, the Onondaga Nation, and the Partnership for Onondaga Creek (POC), may help determine whether or not a sewage treatment plant will be built at Oxford and Blaine, near Midland Avenue on Syracuse's south side.

These meetings were the result of legal action and grassroots activism. Grassroots opposition to building the Midland plant persuaded the Syracuse City Council to vote "No" on the land sale to Onondaga County for the plant. In response, the County complained to the judge overseeing the Amended Consent Judgement (from the lawsuit driving Onondaga Lake's clean-up plan). The result (along with a "parallel track" lawsuit: the County suing the City) was these meetings. From the start, the Nation, the POC and Atlantic States spoke repeatedly about the need for creek restoration, and the detrimental effects the sewage treatment plant would have on both the community and the creek. The County engineers, however, have stuck to their belief that building the sewage plant is the way to go. The County Executive's Office apparent willingness to consider alternatives may be no more than lip service.

The City administration's attitude has been vital in pushing the county towards an alternative solution for Midland. At first, both City councilors and administrators seemed only half-interested in participating in the discussion. However, by the 6th meeting, Vito Sciscioli, city planning, seemed to understand that the creek, the neighborhood, and the solution to the CSOs all needed to be considered differently. By the next meeting, the City had hired their own engineering consultant, Bill Buchan of EnSource.This may seem a minor point, but in terms of the power relations between the City and County, it has made a substantial difference. For the first time, the City is prepared to challenge the County engineers, and is better equipped to find an alternative.

For the past three weeks, both the City and County engineers have been developing alternatives to the original sewage plant plan. We don't know exactly how the County is approaching it. They have said repeatedly that they want to "limit their fiscal responsibility," which may mean that ultimately they will revert back to the treatment plant as the only (i.e. cheapest) way to solve the CSO problem.

Aside from discussing technical alternatives, the group has developed a list of common ideals that will make the solution to the Midland Area CSO acceptable to the whole group.The list is encouragingly broad and hopeful. It is too long to list here, but calls for a solution that is compatible with creek restoration, provides for community employment training, and requires the reduction of pollutants going into the creek.

It's important to note that this list was compiled by a rather contentious group. In the coming weeks, the most challenging piece will be to keep the goals of this list at the forefront, as the County and City present technical plans for Midland that may or may not be an improvement over the sewage plant.

For more information or to get involved, call Joanne Stevens at 476-8540.