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Contamination Concerns Postpone Vote on Loop the Lake Trail Extension

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Onondaga County Lawmakers Monday temporarily put off a vote on extending the loop the lake trail over what’s called Murphy’s Island. The isolated and heavily contaminated 1.6 acre site sits behind the railroad tracks that run past Destiny USA. Activist Lindsey Speer was among those who praised the delay, and urged lawmakers to take their time. 

"I really caution us as a community against rushing to build trails across land that's not remediated. For a short term goal of providing public access and the long term affects of that and we don't know the long term affects of the remediation yet."

Alma Lowery is an Environmental attorney who works with the Onondaga Nation. She urged lawmakers to use the next four weeks to look more deeply into the risks posed by the dozens of chemicals and metals found in the soil.

"It's almost impossible to avoid coming into contamination if you're recreating on Murphy's Island in its current unremediated state. We know that the DEC has found that that poses an unacceptable cancer risk for children and we know that the limited cover for the bike trail is not going to cut off all exposure pathways that are documented on that sight."  

Another speaker at yesterday’s meeting is concerned the trail might impact the bald eagles that use Murphy’s Island. Alison Kocek with Onondaga Audubon says the location is ideal because it’s near a food source on the lake that doesn’t freeze over in the winter. 

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Lindsey Speer addresses lawmakers at their meeting Monday.

"Our main concern is that this trail placement disturbs the birds from the area and the trees that they use for nesting and hopefully nesting in the future and currently just roosting during the winter. And we want to encourage you guys to rethink the process of placing the trail along the shoreline and hopefully move it to an area that would not cause disturbance to the bald eagles."  

It’s those concerns and others that lawmakers felt needed more time to be addressed. Chairman Ryan McMahon says they also want to clear up any misinformation being spread by some groups.

"Individuals have various degrees of what human health risks should be and shouldn't be. We always like to rely on the scientists and the health experts who guide our decisions, so I think there has been a small amount of hysteria over this one little section of the trail." 

Still, it would be one mile long and cost $1.5 million. McMahon says the project has support and will go forward. A vote is expected at their December 5th meeting.  

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at