Activists are using the occasion of Independence Day to urge Onondaga County and Central New Yorkers to protect the dozens of bald eagles which call Onondaga Lake home during the winter.
The county is preparing to spend 1.8 million dollars on a short, stand-alone trail on Murphy’s Island, a densely treed 36-acre plot behind Destiny USA near the railroad where the eagles roost. President of Onondaga Audubon Alison Kocek says the birds require an intact ecosystem free from human interference.
"We're really concerned that if this trail is built, which would be directly under where these birds are roosting, that they may no longer come back. We don't think it's a good idea to take a chance that we could lose this amazing group of eagles."
As many as 100 eagles have been seen on the island, and feed in the warmer waters near the water treatment plant. The county is proposing a limited-use boardwalk trail one-third of a mile long, and would be closed in the winter during peak roosting season. Critics call it a “trail to nowhere” because it would not be part of the rest of the loop the lake trail system. Syracuse is the only city with so many eagles that can be easily seen, and it’s attracted photographers from across the northeast. Businessman Brian Carr says the area has become an eco-tourism hotspot that’s good for the local economy.
"Visitors are staying in our hotels, they're eating in our restaurants, and are shopping in our stores. The eagles are a treasured resource worth preserving any way that we can. But the trail will cut down dozens of trees and threatens to ruin their habitat."
State and federal laws also require a 330-foot buffer for the eagles. Diana Green is with Friends of the Onondaga Lake Bald Eagles. She says the contaminants known to be in the soil on Murphy’s Island don’t pose any risk to the birds since they stay in the trees, but human exposure is possible.
"Murphy's Island was tested like the other affected areas, especially along the southeastern part of the lake. It's more polluted than any of those other areas. All the test sites turned up really serious carcinogens."
She says there are also two emergent chemicals that are still being studied...PXE and PTE. The activists have submitted more than 1,500 petitions to county officials against the trail and to protect the eagles. They’re also urging concerned residents to submit their comments online to the state DEC by July 26th to DEP.R7@dec.ny.gov, and copied to Trendon.Choe@dec.ny.gov.