CNY Solidarity Coalition

Onondaga Creek Flood Zone Information Page

Welcome to the Onondaga Creek Flood Zone Information Page, a collection point for information, news, and resources to shed light on nearly 130 years of corporate and government destruction of the Onondaga Creek ecosystem, robbing the Onondaga Nation and all Central New Yorkers of its formerly crystal clear water, and most recently burdening 876 homeowners on Syracuse’s historically overburdened and underrepresented South Side with a mandate to purchase expensive flood insurance to offset flood risk created by the unhealthy creek.

FEMA Flood Maps:

In August 2016, the City of Syracuse sent postcards to 876 Syracuse homes, mostly on the city’s South/Southwest side, notifying homeowners their property had been added to the revised FEMA flood zone, and they would be required to purchase flood insurance.

View postcard

Mayor’s press release

“Open House” Meeting:

The FEMA postcards invited homeowners to a September 8, 2016 public “Open House” with federal, state, and local officials. FEMA recruited insurance agents to speak homeowners, individually. Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN) staged a protest at the meeting.

Syracuse.com coverage of SUN protest.

If you received a postcard:

Homeowners who received the yellow postcard are required to purchase flood insurance, if they have a federally-backed mortgage.

Detailed information from the City of Syracuse

How much will it cost?

Estimated cost is $225 – $900 per year. That amount can increase up to 18% the subsequent year.

SUN has met with the following people regarding the flood maps:

Jean Kessner and Helen Hudson, Syracuse Common Councilors At-Large

Joe Nehme, Central New York Regional Director for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)

Jared Jones, Regional Director for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Congressman John Katko

Russell Houck, Facility Engineer, Syracuse Department of Engineering

Alma Lowery, Attorney, Onondaga Nation

Joe Heath, Attorney, Onondaga Nation

Lindsay Speer, Consultant, Onondaga Nation

How did it happen?

Honeywell, a multinational conglomerate that merged with Allied Chemical (formerly Solvay Process Company) aggressively mined salt from the Tully Valley for 100 years, creating geologic instability that continues to escalate. Here are a few of Honeywell’s other contributions to Central New York and beyond:

  • Responsible for polluting of Onondaga Lake with 165,000 lbs of mercury
  • Ordered by DEC to remediate damage in 2005
  • Remediation plan sealed pollution underground; in some ways made it worse by polluting areas that were not formerly polluted
  • Builds everything from thermostats to military equipment
  • 6th largest manufacturer of military drones
  • Contributed $9,998 to Rep. John Katko’s campaign
  • Contributed $10,000 to Sen. Charles Schumer’s campaign
  • Contributed $10,000 to Speaker Paul Ryan’s campaign

What does this have to do with Onondaga Creek?

The salt mining process fractured the bedrock of the Tully Valley, allowing water to flow down into the salt layer and bubble up as mudboils. A few years into the mining, the first mudboils appeared in the Tully Valley. Extremely rare and sometimes referred to as the “Jurassic Park of geology”, mudboils swallow trees and grassland, and deposit up to 30 tons of sediment into Onondaga Creek every day. The sediment degrades overall water quality, and impedes flow as silt collects downstream and clogs up the creek. Dredging the creek would have little impact on the problem, as the mudboils would continue to deposit sediment back into the creek

Aerial View of the Mudboils

Closer View of the sediment discharge into the creek

Further reading

Chazen Study: Saline Tully Valley Mudboils Origin and Mitigation

Summary of Chazen study

2014 Post-Standard article: Onondaga Creek’s future murky as mudboils dump 20 tons of silt, sand every day

Mudboil fact sheet

October 2016 SUNY ESF expert panel review of existing literature

View mudboils on Google Maps

2009 Onondaga Creek Conceptual Revitalization Plan Report

A study by O’Brien & Gere recommended three options to address problems in Onondaga Creek: 1) Dredging and removing vegetation from the creek’s edge, 2) Modifying the dam on the Onondaga Nation, and 3) Widening the creek. The final report identified modifying the dam as the cheapest option.

Onondaga Nation Dam

The Onondaga Nation dam was imposed upon the Nation and decimated many homes when it was installed in the 1950s.  Further modification perpetuates the injustice, further flooding homes and Onondaga Nation lands. The Council of Chiefs met with the Mayor recently and there appears to be agreement that this is not the ideal solution, but as CNY residents we need to work together to ensure that it truly is not an option being considered.

For transparency, it’s also important to note that O’Brien & Gere is a major contractor for Honeywell.

Historical context on the South Side

Throughout the history of Syracuse, the city’s African American population has been repeated victims of environmental racism and displacement. In the late 1950’s, Syracuse’s bustling predominantly Black 15th ward was decimated for the construction of I-81. Most 15th ward residents moved to the South Side at that time. Redlining and other forms of overt and covert racism ensured increasing segregation in Syracuse and Onondaga County, according to race and income. Today, Syracuse is home to the highest concentration of poverty concentrated among Black and Hispanic People, in the nation. South Side residents have endured continued disenfranchisement, displacementenvironmental racism, and all the social problems that come with concentrated poverty and segregation in a society that privileges whiteness and wealth.

Read: How to Decimate a City (the Atlantic, 2015)

FEMA’s new flood map is just the latest blow to this community. Watch this short slideshow to see how the flood map lines up with US Census maps showing poverty.

237 homes were removed from the FEMA flood maps, mostly in the Meadowbrook neighborhood on the city’s more affluent and much whiter East Side. This area has seen more recent investment in improvements to flood control infrastructure such as along Meadowbrook Dr and the Meadowbrook Detention Basin adjacent to Barry Park, than have areas along Onondaga Creek.

What can you do? Show up for South Side SUN and the Onondaga Nation

It’s time for all Central New Yorkers to stand in solidarity with the Onondaga People, whose land we all inhabit, and demand reparations for the destruction of water, the source of life. It’s time to stand in solidarity with the 876 homeowners on the South Side, who have been saddled with the latest bill for that destruction. Should these residents foot that bill, or should Honeywell? Rep. John Katko says he supports “mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact” on the environment. Let’s hold him to that commitment. Katko also received $10,000 in campaign contributions from Honeywell, as did Sen. Charles Schumer. Let’s find out where they stand.

Page assembled by Gwen Chaffin of Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN), Lindsay Speer of Creating Change, and Annabel Hine Otts of CNY Solidarity Coalition.