The Latest from the Partnership for Onondaga Creek

By Bob Graham

The Midland Sewage Plant at the corner of Oxford and Blaine Streets - 70% built. Photo: Aggie Lane

Recently the Syracuse Common Council approved the "Inter-Municipal Agreement" between the City and Onondaga County, which the Partnership for Onondaga Creek (POC) and many others have long lobbied against because it continues to exploit the people of the City's south and near west sides.

The deal seems simple enough. The City drops their court fight to block the County from seizing city land needed for various sewage projects. In return, the County pays the City $15 million for improvement projects in the areas affected by county sewage project.

Not a simple deal
Problem is, the deal isn't that simple.
1) Of the $15 million (to be divided between Armory Square, Skunk City, and the Midland neighborhoods) much is money the City and County already want to spend on projects, like the $4 million to go toward parking garages near Armory Square.

2) Money slated for the Midland Ave area will be spent on projects suggested by area residents only if the County Legislature and County Executive approve of the project - even though it's money being given to the City to be spent on city residents. This is money the County offered before but withdrew when residents objected to construction of a massive sewage plant in the middle of their neighborhood.

3) Two more sewage plants will be built in the City: one on Amy Street kitty-corner to the Delaware School and one a block from Fowler (here's your new science lab kids!), and the other in the Armory Square Trolley lot (would Madame prefer the chlorinated or non-chlorinated soup?). Fortunately the north side of the City (where the socio-economic scenery is notably different from the south side) will be spared, with their sewage being treated only by below ground projects.

4) The City must drop all pending legal action against the County over sewer-related issues, give up the right to sue the County in the future, and even agree to join the County in fighting anyone who sues the County. This means if you're a city citizen and you sue the County (because the County took your home for the Midland plant, or you were able to keep your property but when the County built a pipeline through it, your basement was relocated three feet to the left of your house) then you must pay for your own lawyer to fight the City's lawyer (who you pay for with your taxes), who's working for the County (who you also pay for with your taxes) for protection you should be getting from the City government you're paying to look out for you in the first place. (Got all that?)

5) The City and County both claim the deal is flexible (in case someone comes up with a better idea than building massive sewage treatment plants in residential neighborhoods that dump chemical-laden water into Onondaga Creek - oh wait, people already have come up with better ideas which they've spent years telling the County about). The problem is that the City has to pay to develop the new technology, get the County to approve it, and then pay for any construction delays caused by adopting the new technology. This is a city that can't even come up with enough money to pay its teachers.

Moving On
So that's the deal. While the County has gotten its way this time, the POC and others are shifting the focus of their fight to the terms of the discharge permits the County needs for the sewage plants, as well as calling for an audit by the State Comptroller of the spiraling costs of the Midland Ave. plant ($122 million and rising) and other projects.

The POC is moving on in other related directions too.

On Saturday, June 2, several POC members participated in the Beard School Literacy Festival to raise awareness about both the ongoing sewage plant struggle and conservation. Included was a bicycle the kids could peddle to see how much energy it takes to light incandescent light bulbs versus mini-fluorescent bulbs, and a conservation guessing game where one sharp-eyed 12-year-old won a $25 gift certificate.

And after almost nine years as an "underground" group, the POC has decided to become a legally-recognized organization. Members involved in the paperwork to get the POC incorporated and approved as a not-for-profit/tax exempt organization say that while the decision to "go official" may make the POC feel a little less "spontaneous," it gives them the ability to raise money for different projects to benefit the community (such as education projects, leadership and advocacy training and environmental protection efforts).

Bob is a new member of the Partnership who likes to pick up garbage from the Creek. To contact the POC, call Aggie Lane at 478-4571.