Onondaga Nation Will Get Parcel on Onondaga Lake as County Pursues Public Accessibility

May 3, 2016

Onondaga County lawmakers Tuesday agreed to transfer a parcel of land along Onondaga Lake to the Onondaga Nation while the county continues its effort to ensure public access to the rest of the lakeshore. 

Dozens packed the gallery in legislature chambers to make their voices heard.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

   Many were concerned an early version of the resolution  proposed three weeks ago went back on a 2011 promise to give Murphy’s Island near Destiny USA to the Onondaga’s.  But Chairman Ryan McMahon says that measure was just a non-binding gesture that never saw any additional action.

"What we're doing today is much, much stronger," McMahon said.  This isn't a 'we'll say something and we'll do it later'.  We're passing a resolution, not a memorializing resolution, and the resolution talks about the committee and the commitment to finding land that the Nation views to be important, to give the Nation real access and  a real stake in the process."

 Legislature Environmental Protection Committee Chair Michael Plochocki:

"I've talked with leaders of the Onondagas and others, and there are certain sites that they have in mind, there are certain sites that we have in mind, and I'm very optimistic that we can come to consensus."

But some like Andy Mager felt the measures with all of their last minute amendments were too rushed.  he’s with the group Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation.

"It's quite vague in terms of what commitment there is and what land we might be talking about," Mager said.  "Why not table the resolution, work with people at Onondaga to identify this new parcel of land that the county legislature's committed to turning over, then bring the resolution up so it's very clear and specific."

Onondaga Nation counsel Joe Heath addresses lawmakers.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Onondaga Nation counsel Joe Heath says the greatly improved resolutions came about only because of discussions in the hours leading up to the vote.  He says it can only get better with more time.

"There's obviously a great deal of public concern about this issue.  To take a vote on the same day the resolution is last amended is not good government."

Lawmakers ultimately voted 11 to 6 to make the lakefront publicly accessible, while also creating an advisory committee to study a plan to transfer a plot of county-owned lakefront land to the Onondaga Nation.  Lindsay Speer works with Joe Heath, and she says the deal could have been much worse.  She says it’s clear that 900 petition signatures and the public comments at Tuesday’s meeting made a difference.

"It's going to be up to the citizens of Onondaga County to hold our legislators to their word, that they're promising to give different land back to the Onondaga Nation."

Lawmakers listen to speakers at Tuesday's session.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News