Aerospace giant Honeywell Inc. has agreed to spend $451 million to clean up contaminated sediments in Onondaga Lake, one of the most polluted lakes in the United States. The lake, a sacred site to Native America tribes, is heavily contaminated with an array of toxic metals and chemicals and is one of only three lakes listed as a federal Superfund site.
The legal settlement agreement was announced Thursday by New York state officials and will provide for one of the largest environmental remediation projects in the state's history.
"The contamination of Onondaga Lake has severely limited opportunities for people to enjoy these waters," said New York Republican Governor George Pataki. "Although there is still work to be done, this agreement is an important step that secures a legal commitment to implement this critical cleanup project."
The lake, in northwest Syracuse, was a critical waterway for the Onondaga Nation, one of six Native American tribes that formed the Iroquois Confederacy.
For more than a century it has been a dumping ground for industrial waste and sewage.
Much of the pollution was caused by Allied-Signal, a former chemical company that manufactured caustic soda, soda ash, chlorinated benzenes, and other products at a site near the lake from 1917 through 1986. The company's operations released mercury, solvents, calcium and other pollutants into nearby streams and soil as well as Onondaga Lake.
By 1940 the lake was declared unsafe for swimming and in 1970 fishing was banned on the lake.
Honeywell purchased Allied-Signal in 1999 and became the party responsible for the contamination.
An investigation into the extent of the contamination was completed in 2002 and found mercury contamination throughout the 4.6-square mile lake, as well as elevated levels of benzene, toluene, PCBs and polychlorinated dioxins.
The consent decree, which still must be approved by a federal court, requires the company to dredge an estimated 2.63 million cubic yards of sediment from the bottom of the lake and to seal 579 acres of the lake's floor with gravel and sand. Honeywell will also ensure the water generated during the dredging process is clean before it is returned to the lake and will conduct environmental studies and selected habitat restoration.
The cleanup outlined in the settlement will take at least nine years to complete.
Onondaga County is also currently spending $500 million on a 15-year project to curb discharges of untreated sewage into the lake. The state has spent some $125 million since 1995 to improve water quality at the lake - the federal government has spent more than $100 million on the effort. The county-led project aims to achieve full compliance with state and federal water quality regulations by December 2012.
The consent decree also calls for Honeywell to assist the state in its implementation of a citizen participation program, requiring the company to cooperate with the state in providing information regarding the remediation plan to the public.
"Today marks the culmination of years of work to produce a cleanup plan for Onondaga Lake. Everyone in Central New York can be confident that this plan is based on sound science, thorough regulatory review and extensive public participation," said Honeywell Vice President Katherine Adams. "Honeywell is ready to implement the plan and we are committed to conducting this work under state supervision until it is complete."
The Onondaga Nation has called the remediation plan insufficient. The plan was first proposed in late 2004. The tribe contends that New York officials failed to consult its leaders during the development of the plan.
The Onondagas filed a suit in 2005 claiming ownership of 3,100 square miles of land in upstate New York - a move leaders said was intended to gain a greater voice in clean up of polluted sites within the area.
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