|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter Twenty One
The Fire Next Time
Monday, February 22, 1988
That night, whipped by the same 30 mph wind that froze us at Marley's, a massive fire burned a shed at the Regional Farmers Market to the ground half mile downwind from our dig.
That same night, another massive fire burned a large hall to the ground at Oneida Nation 30 miles east of our hole. Oneida Nation is 32 acres in Madison County and the building was a bingo hall. Their 32 acres is a sovereign nation, so gambling went on, although it's illegal in NY.
For many days, the hall had been occupied by Oneidas who opposed gambling on Indian land. But for other Oneidas, bingo was a lucrative business, providing jobs and several hundred thousand dollars in annual revenues, so closing the bingo hall meant lost income. The occupiers felt big money from bingo provided a lot of money to a few people, and was corrupting their traditional culture and government.
Failing to evict the occupants, the Oneidas running the bingo hall called the county sheriff to arrest them. TV and newspapers carried daily reports on this confrontation. The dispute affected all the Iroquois, and many of my Onondaga friends were drawn into sometimes heated, angry debate. It was the latest expression of an old argument among the Iroquois. Oneidas fought as mercenaries with colonists during the Revolution.
Finally, that night, someone had torched the bingo hall. In 35 mph winds, the building burnt quickly in a huge fire.
Monday morning, I returned to Marley's with a nineth dowser, Greg Tarolli, Greg lived alone on the north side, just a few blocks from Marley's. I'd never met him before. A friend who worked for city told me about Greg. Three weeks earlier I had called to ask if he would help me. To my surprise, he agreed.
Greg was a retired supervisor of street repair for the City of Syracuse Department of Public Works (DPW). Greg had dowsed city streets for 25 years. He learned to dowse from an old-timer while a young man new on the DPW crew. He learned to locate underground objects. He never dowsed water or anything else.
But he relied completely on dowsing to locate pipes and other obstructions in the way of street excavations. He was a practical, no nonsense man. To him, dowsing was a practical, no nonsense affair. To me, he was perfect to confirm the other dowsers’ findings. I was intrigued by his opinion, since he was an old-time dowser, who learned years ago. He wasn't in the new wave of dowsers, and had no contact with the new methods of dowsing.
Monday morning, standing in Greg’s driveway, I explained the situation at Marley's. He listened carefully without comment or questions while I described the transformers. Having never met him, I was afraid he might refuse to assist me based on his association with the City. Perhaps he'd be shy of the politics behind this confrontation, and refuse to get involved.
Suddenly he said, "Oh yeah. We buried all kinds of shit in there. Back in the '50's and '60's, that's how things were done. No one knew any better then, and there were hardly any regulations on how to dispose of stuff. No doubt about it, all kinds of shit is buried out at Marley's. Those boys at Pyramid are fools to think they can waltz in there and put up a mall."
This was said so blunt, matter of fact, it took me by surprise. But it made perfect sense. I responded, "I can remember when I was a young boy riding by the site on Route 11 in my father's car and seeing the gulls wheeling around above the dump. Then later, I remember riding past and seeing hundreds of car bodies stacked up all along the highway behind a high wooden fence. Those cars must have been stacked up eight or ten high."
"That's right," Greg said. "I've lived within sight of Marley's for nearly 30 years. I can remember when it was a city dump. Back then, we dumped everything in there. Nobody cared."
He went on, "Haven't dowsed since I retired. I can't recall if I got any rods around here. Let me look around the garage."
Greg went out to poke around looking for his rods. Failing to locate any, he made new ones from welding rod which he bent into a pair of angle rods, or "L" rods. They were thinner and lighter than mine, and stuck out 30 inches in front of him like antennae. Testing them in his hands, he was satisfied with their action.
We took my car to Park Street and parked under the overpass. As we drove by the Regional Market, I could see the blackened remains of the shed. Nothing was left standing—a total loss. We hiked the railroad to Marley's. I felt safe with Greg, and not worried about being stopped by Conrail or Marley's.
Arriving at the site, I showed him the hole we'd dug the day before. Large clots of black oil still floated on the surface of the water only 28 inches in the hole. I remembered the smell of fuel oil that assaulted my nostrils as I punctured the water table. I snapped photos, trying to capture the dark water and oily clots.
As I peered into the hole, I thought of the woman's dream, trying to recall her specific words about fires. I now knew worse than PCB contamination of Onondaga Lake was possible. A fire fed by the oil and gas scum floating on the water table under Marley's would carry contamination aloft in a smoke plume and spread it over a vast area.
I remembered my plane flight a year earlier when Agway's Energy Gases plant had blown. That day the smoke plume rose 2000 feet in the air to a low ceiling, then blew west to blanket the metropolitan area with ugly black haze. Air currents at the mouth of Onondaga Valley where it empties onto the Lake Plain often swirl in a giant whirlpool.
We arrived at the burial site. Greg dowsed with his wire welding rods. Standing to one side of a mound, he walked up to the mound. His rods crossed as he began to climb. Repeating this twice, he looked at me and said, "No doubt about it, you got something buried down there."
I pulled out my plastic handled rods to show him how I track the transformer's edge. My rods swung as I passed over the lip.
"I've never seen rods like those.," he exclaimed. "That's pretty fancy. Where'd you get them? Make them yourself?"
"No," I replied, "I bought them mail order for $5 from the American Society of Dowsers."
"Society of Dowsers? Didn't know there was one," Greg said.
I explained about ASD, its founding in 1961, the annual convention and newsletter. Greg listened with great interest. Turning back to our problem, I asked Greg if he could tell how deep the transformers were.
"Nope. I got no way to tell. Can you?" he said
"Yes, I believe so," I answered. "Let me show you how it's done." I explained the procedure to determine depth.
'That's all?" he said. I nodded. Greg shook his head.
"Do you know much about transformers?" I asked. "I've only seen them from a distance. How thick is the metal sheathing?"
"Oh, probably 3/16 inch sheet metal," Greg replied.
I was incredulous! "That's all!? I thought considering how toxic PCBs are, they'd be clad in thick metal. I expected to encounter a thick metal barrier. Are you sure?"
"Oh yeah," Greg replied. "They used the thinnest metal they could. Who knew PCBs were poisonous back then? PCBs are just a waste residue from other chemical processes. I read that over one billion lbs. of PCBs were used in industrial equipment. They were a great lubricant, coolant and flame retardant."
"Oops!" I exclaimed. "Then I probably punctured one. I pounded one inch conduit in the ground. At six feet, it entered a cavity."
"Sure," Greg replied. "After years sitting in water the metal like cardboard. Your conduit went through it like nothing."
"Damn!" I exclaimed. "I didn't intend to puncture it."
Greg was unruffled by this. "In 1981 they found PCBs in a Long Island gas pipe. Seems Texas Eastern gas company used PCBs in their compressors to pump gas through their 10,000 miles of pipe. And the compessors leaked. Late last year the federal EPA fined Texas Eastern $15 million, the largest ever, which is nothing compared to the $400 million it will take to clean the PCBs up. Other gas companies are worried silly what EPA will do to them. Everyone used them."
Greg and I examined the other mounds together. At one, he announced whatever was there was nearly four feet in diameter—larger than a 50 gallon drum. I showed him how to use my plastic-handled "L" rods. He was impressed by their quick, smooth action, and had me write down how to buy a pair.
We left Marley's, and I took him home, thanking him for his help. I then began delivering my letter to Bruce Kenan all over downtown Syracuse. I returned home and called Conrail. After a few misplaced calls, I got a man in the Dewitt Railyard. I said I wanted to report an illegal burial on Conrail property.
"Of what?" the man asked. "A dead body?"
This caught me by surprise. "No, transformers with PCBs."
"Where is this place?" came the question back..
"Southeast of Onondaga Lake by the main tracks by Marley's Scrap Yard where Pyramid plans to build a shopping mall."
"You mean Pyramid thinks they're going to build. They're in for a big surprise if they think they can build on that place." His voice was heavy skepticism and very sure. The Conrail police were out of the office, so he took a message.
The next morning, I called Bruce Kenan to tell him the news. As ever, he was in a meeting, so I left a message I'd punctured a transformer. Minutes later he called.
I began, "I went to Marley's Sunday. I dug a hole three feet deep and pounded a pipe another three feet. At six feet, I punctured a transformer."
"You did?" he said with audible tinge of disbelief.
"Yes," I replied. "I'm sure of it. Whoever buried them made a slight mistake. They're buried across the property line."
"Whose property are they on?" Bruce asked.
"Conrail property, just over the line alongside the railroad tracks," I answered. I was nervous about his question. Was I letting myself in for arrest?
"It's not on Marley's? You're sure?" he asked carefully.
"Conrail. These transformers are just off Marley's," I replied with all the confidence I could muster. Why was he so careful to determine whose property they were on? To me, it made no difference. They were there, and. had to be removed.
"Do you have a map showing where they are?" Bruce asked.
"Why yes. I gave you one on Friday. Didn't you see it? I included two maps with my last press release."
"I didn't get them," Bruce insisted.
"No? I left one at your office on Friday. You didn't get it?"
"I haven't seen it," Bruce said.
"I also left a booklet I wrote on dowsing. Did you get that?"
"No," he answered, "I didn't see that either."
"OK, I'll get you another copy later this week," I promised.
"Thanks. I'll send a man to look at the site. We'll take it from
here. I suggest you stay away from there and let us handle this."
"OK," but I wasn't at all convinced I could trust Pyramid. We said good-bye and hung up.
Late that afternoon, I was cooking dinner when I got a call from a Conrail Police officer. "Are you the man who reported a burial of hazardous materials on Conrail property?"
"Yes," I said. "I called yesterday."
"Just what were you doing on Conrail property?" he demanded. He sounded very unfriendly.
I thought for a moment how to answer, then said, "I was out by Onondaga Lake when I discovered someone had buried several transformers containing PCBs on your property."
"You have no authorization to be on railroad property. Who gave you permission to be there?" His voice was rising.
"No one gave me permission. I'm a grown man. I can take care of myself. What are you going to do about those transformers? They have to be removed." I became indignant.
"If I find you on Conrail property, I'll arrest you for trespass," he said with great belligerence.
"I understand, but what're you going to do about the PCBs?" I persisted.
"I got your report. But you stay off our land or you'll be arrested." He was practically shouting now.
I was hot, and not to be intimidated. I shouted back, "Those transformers are dangerous. There's oil and gas there, too. I suggest you go out there and look for yourself."
"Look, young man, don't tell me how to do my job. You just stay off our property and let us take care of things." With that we ended the phone call. My adrenaline was flowing.
I went into the kitchen to find one of my pots smoking on the stove. I grabbed it off the burner, took it out on the back porch, and put it in the snow to cool. Lifting the lid, smoke billowed up. I could see the food was burned beyond salvage.
I went inside, leaving the backdoor open to clear smoke from the kitchen. I began cutting vegetables again, thinking in agitation about my argument with the Conrail officer. After a few minutes I called him back.
"David Yarrow again. Look, I'm sorry we yelled at each other. I didn't want to leave a bad feeling between us."
The officer was calm now, and accepted my apology. In a kind voice he said, "Oh, that's alright. We both got a little hot. These things happen."
"Well, I didn't want to leave a bad feeling. I'm pretty upset about the transformers. It's been quite an ordeal for me. I guess I'm a little tense, and needed to let off steam."
"No problem," was his reply. "We all get excited once in while. Look, I've got a job to do. I cover territory from the Canadian border to Pennsylvania. I get all kinds of jerks doing stuff on our tracks. I can't allow anyone to waltz onto our land."
|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
144 pages, 8.5 x 11 soft cover
available from Turtle EyeLand
"I understand. Just take care of those things. Please."
I lay in bed that night reviewing the day's events. In the balance of Fire and Water, it had been a day of fire. Right down to hot tempers and burned vegetables.
Fire and Water are also instruments of purification. We wash and cook our food to purify it for proper digestion. Sun and rain make the crops grow. The last world—the world of Old Testament Noah—was destroyed by Water. Many prophecies, including the Mayan, say this world will be purified by Fire.
But, while a fire at Marley's might purify the site, it would spread a toxic plague in the oily black cloud that would rise from the redhot scrap iron. Now my second airplane ride to Osco also became a telling feature of this Oil City drama. The mood of Marley's now seemed darker than ever.
4 Clinton Square
Syracuse, NY 13202
I repeat my initial greeting: I am here as Healer and Peacemaker, not as Warrior. I do not oppose your intent to build on Marley's. I believe you underestimate the danger and the wealth that await you there. I am here to help you do it Right.
I realize you undoubtedly wish I would give up on these transformers. And I myself really wish I could. This situation disrupts my life and wears me weak at a bad time. But what I know commands me to act, and act decisively and quickly. The consequences of failure are too horrible. I vowed not to rest until those "monsters" are out of the ground (or I am proven wrong). I continue to pray you will agree with my assessment once you accept all the facts which I possess. I will understand if you question the validity of my facts. Hear them anyway.
As shown by my maps, four holes were dug alongside the railroad bed curving north around Marley's, and filled with 5 transformers. No soil or water samples were taken near this site. I contend that these 5 transformers are not located on Marley's, but were dug in across the line on Conrail property.
One hole has two transformers stacked in it. Thus one lies within six feet of the surface; this is where I have begun to dig. Placement of two in one increases the potential for leakage. Let's hope the second was gently lowered onto the first, and not dropped. If the second was roughly handled and damaged, both may already leak.
Carousel Center's construction won't "cap" this area. These transformers will not be covered by the asphalt cap, or uncovered by excavation. There is a small chance excavation for storm drains might uncover the shallowest of these. The greater chance is construction will disturb but not unearth these metal canisters. They have been buried at least seven years in corrosive water.
Once Carousel Center is built, both underground water and surface runoff will be forced to the edges of the site. The east and north edges are sealed by century old railroad embankments, forcing water to find another channel.
The transformers sit at the head of a trench which runs due west into the Barge Canal. This six to twelve feet deep trench separates Marley's level surface from the embankment of the main Conrail tracks. Without doubt Carousel Center will divert stormwater into this trench, and flush leaking PCBs quickly and directly into the Barge Canal.
Once the PCBs are in Onondaga Lake, they will remain in the ecosystem for centuries, triggering mutagenic and other pathogenic changes. The sensible course is to remove the transformers, quickly, now.
Today I dug a hole on Conrail property immediately adjacent to the shallowest of the five transformers. Someone was nice enough to survey and stake the property line to confirm my contention. An eighth dowser confirmed the burial of large metal objects. As anticipated, I hit standing water at three feet. I didn't anticipate the strong odor of oil and gasoline. My hole quickly filled with water with oily scum floating on its surface. I smelled no chlorinated hydrocarbons, and detected no sign that PCBs have begun to leak upwards yet. A water sample was taken.
I will return for further investigations soon. No date in mind tonight.
I pray you agree with my sense of urgency. We must prevent these PCBs from contaminating the already stagnant soup of thick mineral waters captive at the bottom of Onondaga Lake. Release of such a large volume of mutagen into the lake will cause genetic damage to our environment for centuries.
As a professional empiricist, perhaps you do not recognize or believe in the power of Spirit. Nonetheless, it is here. We are experiencing a uniquely powerful moment: the simultaneous completion of more than one major cycle of history. At times like this, myth and metaphor come alive to challenge our deeper, even deepest, understandings. So I warn you: there is more danger than PCBs, more wealth than money, and more power than civil law in this situation. I hope the transformer challenge doesn't deter your idealistic intent to build at Marley's, to regenerate Oil City and to clean-up Onondaga Lake. I believe only Pyramid has sufficient power to lead such an effort. This present PCB challenge is a test of both your judgment and your sincerity.
I appeal to you again for financial support for my investigation. I make this immense effort at a time of personal weakness and inconvenience. One consequence is a lack of good, restful sleep. Another is a sharp decline in income. My landlord understands my position, and is willing to wait for my rent. The utilities are not so kind.
for one peaceful, green Earth,
ps. This morning (Monday) I returned to Marley's with a eighth dowser who is highly skilled at locating underground objects for excavations. He is in complete agreement that several large objects (four feet across) are buried under the mounds.