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For Release: Tuesday, September 19, 2017

New York State and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Release Final Plan Outlining Projects to Restore Wildlife Habitat and Recreation on Onondaga Lake

Final Report Result of Years of Scientific Study and Public Input

Future Projects Fund to Provide Millions of Dollars for Additional Projects with Community Input

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS) today released the final plan outlining projects to restore wildlife habitat and recreation on Onondaga Lake. The Onondaga Lake Natural Resource Damage Assessment Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment Final Report is a significant milestone in the revitalization of Onondaga Lake.

"Onondaga Lake continues on the road to recovery, and the habitat conservation and recreation projects outlined in the final plan will ensure the important progress to revitalize the Lake advances quickly," said Kenneth Lynch, Executive Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. "The public comments we received were essential in identifying a comprehensive suite of projects that will continue to improve the ecology of the lake's environment and connect more people to the incredible opportunities to enjoy the Lake."

The final plan increases habitat quality and quantity, promotes habitat connectivity, creates new and improves existing public use opportunities, and benefits natural resources within the ecosystem. The final plan and additional information (link leaves DEC's website) on the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration process can be found online at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

The agencies selected 20 restoration projects in the final restoration plan. These projects, in total, will:

  • Extend the Erie Canalway Trail from Camillus to the Loop the Lake Trail (3.2 miles) and from the Honeywell Visitor Center to Harbor Brook (1.2 miles);
  • Improve preservation efforts, bolster habitat restoration, and increase public access to more than 1,400 acres along Ninemile and Onondaga creeks in the Onondaga Lake watershed, including public fishing rights and parking areas;
  • Install structures within over 275 acres of Onondaga Lake to provide habitat for fish, amphibians, and invertebrates;
  • Provide 15 years of funding to identify and remove invasive species within approximately 1,700 acres of wetlands, lake/river littoral zone, and riparian habitat;
  • Restore wetland and fish habitat within and adjacent to Onondaga County parklands;
  • Restore 100 acres of warm season grassland;
  • Construct a new deepwater fishing pier on Onondaga Lake;
  • Enhance jetties at the Onondaga Lake outlet to improve access;
  • Construct a new boat launch along the Seneca River;
  • Transfer the Honeywell Visitor Center to a public agency; and
  • Include a new Future Projects Fund.

The selected restoration alternative is the result of significant public contribution including several years of input from partner organizations, community representatives, and existing documents and plans, culminating in four public information sessions, one public hearing, and more than 230 public comments on the draft plan submitted during the extended comment period. A Responsiveness Summary is included with the final plan, which summarizes public comments on the Restoration Plan, grouped by categories, and provides the Trustees' responses to those comments.

Specifically, the Trustees changed the Restoration Plan in response to public comments to include information on the proposed projects, as well as those projects that were not proposed for implementation. All project suggestions submitted in response to the Trustees' request for project suggestions are included, and additional text was added to clarify assessment methodologies, explain the public participation process, and discuss the role of the Onondaga Nation. Alternative B was clarified as the preferred alternative of a suite of projects that best meet the regulatory criteria.

The Plan acknowledges that certain geographic areas (e.g. Onondaga Creek) are not represented in Alternative B, but the Trustees will consider projects in those areas, as appropriate, as planning for additional projects under the Future Projects Fund proceeds. The Trustees will continue stakeholder outreach and public participation to solicit additional restoration projects and develop proposed projects that satisfy all relevant criteria.

David Stilwell, the USF&WS Field Supervisor at the New York Field Office, commented "The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service looks forward to restoring and conserving the natural resources of Onondaga Lake and its watershed, in partnership with the local community."

Next Steps

Implementation of projects in the Restoration Plan is contingent upon settlement of the Trustees' Natural Resource Damages claims. This settlement will involve the preparation of a Consent Decree subject to additional public comment. The settlement will be combined with the $2.3 million in proceeds from a settlement reached as part of the General Motors bankruptcy in 2012, so that numerous additional restoration projects can be implemented using the Future Projects Fund.


As part of the Onondaga Lake Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) process, DEC and USF&WS assessed contaminant-related injuries to natural resources such as waterfowl and turtles, and quantified the lost use of natural resources to the public, such as fishing. The agencies then solicited restoration project ideas from stakeholders to identify the types and scale of restoration needed to compensate for those injuries. The ultimate goal of the process is to replace, restore, rehabilitate, or acquire the equivalent of injured natural resources and resource services lost due to the release of hazardous substances-at no cost to the taxpayer.

Under federal law, federal and state agencies and Native American tribes are authorized to act as trustees on behalf of the public for natural resources they own, manage or control. In this role, trustees assess and recover damages or implement restoration projects to compensate for injuries to natural resources due to hazardous substance releases (e.g. mercury). The natural resource damage assessment regulations encourage the participation of potentially responsible parties (PRPs) in the assessment process, and Honeywell agreed to cooperatively assess natural resource damages and identify restoration projects at Onondaga Lake with the trustees. Read more information on this process (link leaves DEC's website) at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

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