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Source: Syracuse Post-Standard

What's the rush to build Onondaga Lake amphitheater? Group wants more time to study, comment


Posted: July 22, 2014
Originally Published: July 22, 2014

Syracuse, N.Y. -- Onondaga County is charging ahead with a plan to build an amphitheater on the west shore of Onondaga Lake with too little study and too little chance for public to have its say, a new coalition says.

"It's unfortunate that this could be shoved down the throat of our community before anybody knows about it," Onondaga Nation lawyer Joe Heath told the Syracuse.com editorial board today. The nation is part of the coalition, known as Citizens for a Better Plan.

Coalition member Sarah Eckel said the public comment period on the 654-page report runs for just a month. It should be at least 90 days, she said.

The county will hold one public hearing Wednesday on the huge environmental report on the Lakeview Amphitheater. That's not enough, the coalition says, and it's at the wrong time: 11 a.m. on a weekday.

"We'd like to have a couple hearings in the evenings so that people who work can come," said Eckel, who is legislative and policy director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and County Executive Joanie Mahoney announced the plan in January. Since then, consultants wrapped up the enormous environmental report by early June and the state Legislature gave the county permission to fast-track construction.

The coalition says the county is moving too fast on a proposal that has far too many unanswered questions. Among them:

-- Where's the business plan for the 17,500-seat amphitheater proposal that will be built with taxpayer money?

"We don't know how many events, the timeline, what the attendance will be during the season," said Lloyd Withers, a business owner and head of the group Onondaga Shoreline. "Will Onondaga County be competitive with like facilities?"

-- Why not look at alternate ideas, such as upgrading the grandstand at the state fairgrounds a half mile away?

"Why not lessen the risks to taxpayers and put it in a proven place with all that support network and infrastructure in place?" Withers asked.

-- Why not wait until Honeywell and the state finish a remediation plan for the waste beds upon which the amphitheater would be built?

"There's contamination all the way through," said Alma Lowery, an environmental attorney who works with Heath. "Now we're talking about bringing thousands of people to the site."

-- Why not make more effort to inform the public about the plan?

"Best practices are to get out to the community, to put posters in the community, to have meetings in those areas, to make available people to answer the questions residents have," Lowery said.

County Executive Joanie Mahoney spoke about the plan July 9 at Solvay High School, but Heath noted that Mahoney took no questions from the audience.

Wednesday's hearing will be in the Onondaga County Legislative chambers in the county courthouse, 401 Montgomery St., Syracuse.