Onondaga Lake Cleanup

Onondaga Lake sits in the heat of Central New York and for the better part of a century was the premier dumping ground for industrial and municipal waste. Along the shore of the lake a large chemical plant produced soda ash, an invaluable ingredient for modern industry. The Solvay Process as it was known generated large volumes of solid and liquid waste which was dumped in massive dumping grounds surrounding the lake. Ultimately the entire shoreline was transformed with mounds of hazardous chemicals that slowly leached heavy metals and other contaminates into the lake. Raw sewage from City of Syracuse and beyond was often dumped into the lake following heavy rains. What once was a source of natural resource and beauty turned into a veritable cesspool. Locals hung their heads in shame and remembered the better days of waterside hotels and recreation. Eventually most of the worst polluters folded or left town for good leaving the local population (me!) and others holding the bag. Most thought the lake was doomed for good. Following decades of hand wringing and lawsuits hope began to return when Honeywell, successor to one of the largest polluters, agreed to move forward with a plan to clean the lake with a project costing well over half a billion dollars. Following a Federal lawsuit the County of Onondaga invested millions by upgrading their waste water plant which greatly reduced raw sewage discharge and ammonia levels. Now on hot days you can drive by the lake and not roll up your windows! Small steps in a very large program but a positive sign none the less. So what does any of this have to deal with the normal topics of this website? Did I mention that large portions of the shore line, lake bottom and waste beds are undergoing dredging, capping and remediation? You know what that means. Heavy equipment galore.

Onondaga Lake Clean Up

The clean up process has been ongoing on for a number of years now. Multiple dredges and barges loaded with pumps, excavators and other equipment dot the lake. For most of the project access for photos and videos has been difficult as the site is pinned between existing industry and a six lanes of interstate. Recently that all changed when a new walking trail opened on the site of the waste beds providing excellent views of both Onondaga Lake and the ongoing cleanup process. Saturday morning I passed the site and noticed some off road dump trucks and excavators playing around in Nine Mile Creek right below a new pedestrian bridge. The views couldn’t get any better. Hours later I passed by the site again and was happy to find work still taking place. I quickly turned around began down the new walking trail. TWO MILES LATER of scenic walking on paved trails I made it to the action. If you are looking for a place to view birds this path is for you. At times the air sounded like a jungle with the variety of calls coming from the trees. If you are heading out to view heavy equipment, bring a bike. The first activity I came across was this 950K loading a 730 articulated dump truck. I don’t know where this material is coming from but it’s loaded with large boulders. Every few minutes a truck would roar up the path and leave fully loaded within three buckets of the 950K. The off road dumper sounded very nice with a deep growl. I guess these trucks have yet to be choked to death by emissions and other pollution control nonsense.

The next bit of concentrated activity found a large screener feeding into a hopper that appeared to be creating a liquid mixture that traveled under the walking path through large rubber pipes. The ultimate destination appeared to be a barge offshore. I’m guessing this is part of the capping process. Two large generators along with pumps and other equipment make this the least peaceful section of the trail but provide for some good construction viewing.

As fun as all this was my ultimate goal was the pedestrian bridge over Nine Mile Creek. Take a look at the video below to see why.

Literally right on top of the action. Fill was being trucked down to the creek by two separate trucks in the effort to make some sort of roadway to the lake. If you want to get any closer bring your bathing suite! I was fortunate to see a few loads dropped off before work drew to close for the day. Packing up for the night called for the Cat 336E to pass under the bridge which required the operator to put the boom in the creek in order to have the necessary clearance. I almost missed this part of the action as I watched a mother duck and here babies cross six lanes of highway to the newly created wetlands. I’m not sure how the made it but they did. Below is a video of the excavator working away and passing directly under the foot. The bridge really started bouncing at this point.

I really sweated for this posting. When all was said and done I put 4 miles of walking on already busted shoes but that’s what I do to keep the wheels rolling around here. 😉

If you would like to learn more about the lake cleanup process check out this website, lakecleanup.com. It really gives a comprehensive look at the past, present and future of this massive project.


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