Onondaga Lake and the Onondaga Nation

In April, the State published the Onondaga Lake Natural Resource Damage Assessment Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment. This document signals the State’s intent to force Honeywell to build habitat and recreational facilities in and around Onondaga Lake as compensation for all of the damage done to the Lake by industrial activity. The habitat and recreation proposals contain little detail, but the State will flesh them out more fully when it publishes an Environmental Impact Statement for public review and comment. There will be more to dissect when that happens.

Right now, though, the plan’s most obvious flaw is that it only mentions the Onondaga Nation in its listing of Cultural and Historic Resources. The Onondaga Nation should play a central role in any plan to restore the Lake’s ecology, and it should receive reparations for the specific harm that it’s suffered at the hands of industry and government.

The Onondaga Nation should have a say in plans for habitat rehabilitation and other environmental projects because it is the only party that has demonstrated actual concern for the health of the lake. Honeywell wants to do as little as possible as cheaply as possible, and the State and County are primarily concerned that the Lake get clean enough to attract tourists. Every time Honeywell has cut a corner, or failed to deliver on a promise, it’s been the Onondagas who’ve called them out on it. It’s doubtful that a plan written without their input will truly repair the damage done by Honeywell and its predecessors.

More outrageously, the plan doesn’t even mention reparations for the Onondaga Nation. It lists anglers, joggers, and birdwatchers all as people who have suffered harm as a result of the lake’s contamination, but it fails to name the people who hold the lake sacred. It takes an act of willing blindness to pretend that recreational fishers have suffered more than the Onondagas or that they’re more deserving of reparations than the Onondagas. The State needs to put its commitment to making full reparations in a legal actionable document in order to prevent more broken promises.

It’s too early to have much of an opinion about a lot that’s contained in this report. Will the State try to privatize land along the lake? Are the environmental restorations adequate? Will Onondaga County finally give the City of Syracuse access to its Loop-the-Lake Trail? Will the State try to build an aerial gondola between Liverpool and Solvay? These are all questions that will be answered in the future as the State drafts an Environmental Impact Statement.

It’s never too early, though, to point out that this Lake has a history and a meaning that predates the creation of the City of Syracuse, Onondaga County, and the State of New York. The Onondagas have a right to Onondaga Lake, and they have an overriding interest in its health. It’s unacceptable that reparations to them and input from them are not included in this Restoration Plan. The State, the County, and Honeywell do not want to work with a partner that will demand real restoration, but they must, and we must hold them to it.

Contact them by phone at 315 552 9784, online at this link, or, better yet, in person at one of the three public meetings:

10 am – 12 pm, Thursday, May 11

Room 203 of the Center of Excellence Building

727 E. Washington Street

Syracuse, NY 13244


4:30 pm – 6 pm, Thursday, May 18

Honeywell’s Onondaga Lake Visitors Center

280 Restoration Way

Syracuse, NY 13209


7:30 am – 8:45 am, Friday, May 19

City Hall Commons Atrium

201 E. Washington Street

Syracuse, NY 13202