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NY senators to Army: Stop the presses!

John Kekis
AP Writer

Syracuse, NY — Calling it a “mistake” and not in the spirit or intent of the economic recovery legislation they supported, New York’s U.S. senators asked the Army Corps of Engineers to stop a $120,000 federal stimulus project for Onondaga Lake because it won’t create new jobs or infrastructure.

In a joint letter to Army Corps Gen. Robert L. Van Antwerp, Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand ask that no stimulus money be spent to update an eight-year-old, 16-page pamphlet with a status report on the $1 billion cleanup of the lake, once among the most polluted bodies of water in the nation.

“The first and most important goal of stimulus money is to create or sustain jobs, to help business, and turn the economy around,” Schumer said Tuesday. “We’ve done enough studies. Now it is time for action.”

The Army has $120,000 set aside for the pamphlet, which was originally published in 1992 and updated in 2001. The senators said the money should be used to create or keep jobs related to the cleanup.

A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers in Buffalo said Tuesday the Army would respond to the senators’ letter within two days.

Schumer and Gillibrand said they were under the impression the money would be used for capital projects to help continuing efforts to stop a combination of sewage and toxic chemicals from polluting the lake.

The lawmakers were alerted to the pamphlet spending by an article in Sunday’s editions of The Post-Standard of Syracuse.

Onondaga Lake once was the spiritual center of the Onondaga Indian Nation, one of the six upstate New York tribes that formed the Iroquois Confederacy. The great Onondaga Chief Hiawatha once canoed its waters. In the late 19th century, the lake was ringed by grand resorts and amusement parks and was a popular sports fishery.

A century of municipal and industrial pollution turned it into a toxic stew of mercury, ammonia, phosphorous, PCBs, benzene, cyanide and other pollutants.

Swimming was banned in the lake in 1945. A fishing ban was imposed in 1970 and replaced in 1986 by a health advisory that limits the consumption of fish caught in the lake.

The lake was added to the federal Superfund list in 1994 and has since made a remarkable recovery. In November 2007, oxygen levels were at the highest in at least 40 years and approaching normal levels, according to data collected by the Upstate Freshwater Institute.

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