|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter Twenty Three
Sunday, March 2, 1988
The Syracuse New Times continued the saga of my struggle. Column one of What's Shakin' was filled with Oil City news.
Armory Square developer and SUNY architecture professor George Curry passed up the opportunity for a big play at last week's Thursday Morning Roundtable. When asked to rate proposed Oil City redevelopment plans from 1 to 10, Curry glanced at a City Hall entourage attending the presentation and said, "That's a dangerous game to play."
Curry, member of the Young Business People of Greater Syracuse group to delay the progress of the proposed Carousel Center shopping mall, said only, "I'm encouraged by the plans for Franklin Square, but have some questions about the mall." Mayor Young, Corporation Counsel Frank Harrigan and city Development Director Joe Mareane heard the presentation, which called for the development of an urban master plan.
"A city is not a shopping mall," Curry observed, warning thilt without a democratically developed "shared vision" for downtown development, the city's current "freewheeling approach" will guarantee one project will not relate to another. He also warned that the once popular trend of closing off and covering streets as urban malls has reversed.
Agreeing with a position held by both Young and former Mayor Lee Alexander that residential development is a key to revitalization of downtown, Curry said, "Syracuse isn't a 24 hour city. Housing extends those hours but a family living downtown has no support system."
The answer, according to Curry, is a master plan developed through public debate with a mixed use approach including creation of "added space", like the former Armory Square loading dock area which now houses several retail businesses. Some cities, Curry noted, vote such plans into law.
A new section continued to report on Oil City:
Two others who've independently sought delays of the
Carousel Center steamroller hope meetings this week will answer questions raised by the YBP. Representatives of Assemblyman Mel Zimmer, whose 120th District includes the area most immediately impacted by the proposed mall, will meet with members of city administration, and environmental activist David Yarrow says he's been promised a site visit by a representative of the federal EPA.
Zimmer's concerns include the project's impact on the environment, economic impact on neighboring North Side businesses and determination the project would really provide a benefit to the city's tax base. Zimmer's concerned that if significant tax relief is granted for Pyramid Company's development, the project's promised benefit might be neutralized, while running the danger the tax base could be further eroded by destabilizing the business and residential atmosphere of the area.
Convinced his digging last week located one of the scrapped PCB-laden electric transformers he maintains are buried on the Carousel Center site, Yarrow's hoping water samples he obtained will force investigation by state or federal agencies to prevent toxic consequences he projects could be "worse than Love Canal." While buoyed by anticipation of a visit from EP A, he's so far been frustrated by the state DEC, which says it is still studying materials he presented them last month.
Then, in a final note, the next section read:
Yarrow's not the only one speaking about frustration with the DEC. County Legislator James Salanger criticized the DEC last week when no DEC reps showed for a legislative discussion of new regulations which force a second downsizing in the operating scope of the county's proposed trash plant. "They change the regulations weekly, I could say daily," Salanger said. "They should call it the 'Dept. of Environmental Confusion'."
That afternoon, I called Lee Miller. "Hello environmental warrior," Lee chuckled. "I see you're in the news again. How goes the battle?"
"Worse than press reports lead you to believe," I replied. "In the war between man and Nature, Nature is still losing. The man I spoke to yesterday at the EPA in NY City told me this is DEC jurisdiction. Meanwhile the local DEC shows great reluctance to investigate. I think they're afraid to get in Pyramid's way, or maybe they cut an inside deal with Congel. DEC is overloaded with hazardous sites already and probably reluctant to add new ones to an already long list. Especially one inside city limits. They maybe hope Pyramid's asphalt cap will solve problems at the site and get them off the hook."
"I drove by Marley's this week and saw lots of activity moving scrap piles. Seems Pyramid's getting ready for their spring construction," Lee observed.
"I noticed. But it seems like business as usual. It'll take a lot of work to remove all that metal from that ugly, wasted place. The cranes at Marley's swaying back and forth picking up great bites of rusty metal look like Hollywood dinosaurs munching shrubs and trees -like a scene out of paleolithic history."
"There is an odd aura of time about that space," Lee said chuckling softly as ever. "I thought about what you said about Marley's being a meeting of the ways. It's certainly a strange place. All the roadways, railways and waterways which loop and circle around that area. And all the pipelines and cables. It's like a giant knot snarled on the shore of the lake."
Excited to hear someone reflect on my perception of the site I said, "'Yes, also a 'not'—N-O-T. It's an empty place, a kind of negative space. Having been there several times I sense a very unusual atmosphere. It's like a vortex, or whirlpool—place where energy is converging and swirling around and around. Cars, trucks, trains, water, oil, even sewage all rushing by, setting off energy spirals. At the center of it all is Marley's, an empty vortex, sucking in the energy and debris around it."
I stood up to carry my phone to my office wall where I'd assembled a mosaic of topographic maps which spanned 45 miles from Auburn to Chittenango, Oneida Lake on the north to Tully in the south. Near the center was the Syracuse and outlying towns, a pink blotch wrapped around the lower end of the tilted blue oval that's Onondaga Lake. I peered close at the maze of lines converging on the oval's southeast comer.
"How true," Lee mused. "First it was a swamp, the image of stagnation in the natural world. Then came salt wells and drying beds, then came a city dump, now it's a scrap metal yard, a repository for industrial junk. How bizarre!"
"This vortex has quite an appetite," I replied with a laugh. "In the 1800's they filled it with several feet of salt waste and fill. Next it became a settling pond. Then came the city dump and the site ate urban waste for a couple of decades. Now this great energy vortex is attracting and digesting huge quantities of metal. It's like a drain in the bottom of a sink, sucking all the waste and debris poured in it."
"So Marley's is like a giant hole. No wonder it was never built on in 200 years since we got it from the Onondagas," Lee reflected. "Reminds me of your press release. Did you know this when you first named it The Hole Truth?" Lee chuckled softly at this meaningful irony.
"Not at first. Originally it was because I was going to dig a hole. Later, as I studied my maps, I realized there was a second, unintended joke. My first clue was when I realized 2 of the 3 streams that empty into the lake enter in the southeast comer. In Chinese geomancy a stream is the energy flow from high mountain to low lake. At a lake active, the moving energy disappears and is absorbed into the still, unmoving water, so there's a geomantic power center on a lakeshore where a stream's empties into it."
"And the original Onondaga creekbed is under Marley's," Lee said, extending my thoughts. "So even before man, there was a natural energy center there. Then later humans began building there and treated it just that way: as a hole. Funny how in the back of their minds, humans knew it was a hole. What else do you do with a hole but fill it? So they began dumping there 200 years ago and haven't stopped."
"So The Hole Truth is that Marley's is the biggest hole in Onondaga Valley," I said with impish glee. "And now Robert Congel wants to build his biggest shopping mall, his legacy to future generations, on this great hungry hole. In Chinese Feng Shui where a stream enters a lake is ideal to site a house or business, since it captures energy flowing into the reservoir."
Anticipating me, Lee said, "And money, like water, is energy. A bank is the place where money collects."
"'Right,'' I affirmed. "So Pyramid has chosen what Feng Shui calls an auspicious site. A powerful one, too. The mouth of Onondaga Creek is ideal to site their mall to capture the energy and money streaming there. I doubt Pyramid has any concept of the metaphysical nature of the site. More likely, this powerful organization is unconsciously attracted to this powerful piece of Earth. Or perhaps the Earth itself has attracted Pyramid. Pyramid may be powerful but I'll bet my money on the hole. I think this hole will eat the Carousel Center. I just hope it doesn't belch or fart after trying to digest all that metal, concrete and plastic."
Lee laughed at this image. "Well, this hole certainly is a negative space. Salt industry pumped white gold salt crystal out of the ground, removing the natural energy from the site, making it empty. With its power drained out, our giant hole has become quite a dark void."
At this, my own thoughts became dark and somber. "'Yes, dark indeed. Including a dead, probably murdered, body, a few feet from those terrible transformers. I often wonder about what evil brought that person there. It's like Blackbeard's treasure, guarded by a skeleton."
"'Yes,'' agreed Lee. "And remember the woman saw Indians massacred by soldiers in her dream. I wonder what history books say about why the Onondaga village was abandoned."
"I've come to see Marley's as a mythical battleground, with forces of darkness—transformers and dead body—in the north comer, and the force of life—the dragon—in the south. An awesome confrontation. If it comes to a battle, damage will spread not only miles, but for generations into the future." I shivered at the image of a smoke plume rising from Marley's.
"So who are you, the referee?" Lee said with a laugh. "Or the fall guy?" It was a weak joke, but it shook off some heaviness which gripped my mind.
I laughed, "No, I'm a ‘holely’ man. More like entertainment before the main event. No one will ever believe this. I can imagine the gossip going around about me already. My predicament is how to communicate this to someone with power to defuse the situation. I don't dare talk about this metaphorical understanding to many people. My credibility is perilously thin already. There's moments I question my own sanity for thinking any of this."
Lee laughed with warm empathy. "Put this in your geomancer's puzzle. I've been thinking about your Onondaga Dragon. If you put a compass point in a map at Marley's, it's ten miles to the Big Hill. Then you draw a circle with that radius. This arc strikes some interesting places: South Onondaga, Cedarvale, Marcellus, Baldwinsville, Three Rivers, south shore of Oneida Lake, Minoa, and Fayetteville. It encloses the metropolitan region in a circle."
I stared at my maps trying to visualize what Lee was describing. I could see the basic image, but couldn't verify its exact detail. "0kay," I said.
"Marley's is the center of this circle. Someone up there has a sense of humor, because one point this circle touches on the northeast is a drag strip. I know it's a bad pun, worse than your hess and hiss, but drag and dragon. Smoking gasoline dragons roaring down an asphalt strip." Lee was chuckling vigorously. I gave out a mild guffaw, but was puzzled by his purpose.
He continued, "So if the landscape is an energy pattern, this forms a kind of natural proportion, defining the boundary of the energy field—its wavelength. Are you with me?"
"I'm listening, but the significance eludes me," I said.
"Now look at the metropolitan area itself," Lee suggested.
"It's an angular shape which is two triangles whose center is also Marley's. One triangle points downwards touching Nedrow and widening towards Onondaga Hill and Dewitt. The other points upwards near Clay. Together they form a diamond shape, or more accurately, a Star of David."
On my maps the metropolitan area was in pink and suggested this angular outline. "Sort of," I replied.
"Marley's is again the center. The circle is the spiritual, natural energy. The star, with angles, is the material world.
"So?" I said with puzzlement.
"These two images define the energy fields active around the lake. I can't explain more but I'm struck by the obvious geometry of the patterns. Seems more than coincidence."
"I'm at a loss," I said slowly, "but this certainly adds to the idea Marley's is a hole at the center of it all." I felt frustrated to not see a meaning to Lee's images but sensed a mystery in this geometry. "The Salt Treaty refers to Marley's as the place of beginning, so I'm calling it the , the place where Mother Earth gave birth to salt industry and Salt City."
"Quite an image," Lee chuckled. "So all the scrap metal at Marley's is industrial lint in Syracuse's navel. Seems Salt City's in dire need of some Zen meditation to contemplate its navel."
Laughing again, I said, "If a patient had a condition in his gut like Syracuse has at Marley's, I'd pronounce him dangerously ill. Driving five miles of piles into Marley's to hang a mall on is like inserting 20 acupuncture needles into a patient's navel. In twelve years studying acupuncture, I never heard of such a treatment. I imagine the patient's vitality would rush out like a pricked balloon." I laughed, but with a dark, hollow ring.
Without warning, Lee asked, "Ever try dowsing caves?"
"No. Why do you ask?" surprised at this query.
"Ever wonder if there might be caves under Marley's?" Lee's voice had a sly tone. "The idea of Marley's as a hole may be more than an idea. There may be a cavern beneath the site. If Pyramid drives their piles, they may puncture the cave."
Captivated, I replied, "No, but I think about the caves under central NY. The region is underlain by limestone, which is famous for forming caverns. Lime from limestone forms stalactites and stalagmites." Not for lack of trust, I was unwilling to speak all I knew about caves under central New York.
"Right. Water trickles through the limestone and melts the lime. Over centuries calcium precipitates out to form those astounding columns that look much like cathedrals. That should strike your fancy, with your interest in sacred spaces."
"That's a thought," I mused. "Often streams flow in caves. As a dowser, I have some odd ideas about underground streams."
"Earth is like any other subject—there's more under the surface than is thought," Lee said. "A few years ago engineers opened caves near Liverpool when they excavated a road. I believe they’re are part of an underground network."
"There's a story that Clark Reservation's lake has no bottom," I said. "I heard they probed 200 feet without finding its bottom."
Clark Reservation is a county park southeast of Syracuse, near Jamesville. A postglacial river flowed from Onondaga to Butternut Valley 10,000 years ago. At Butternut Valley, this massive river of melting glacial ice water dropped over a cliff into the valley. Over hundreds of years, this huge waterfall wore away the bedrock forming a deep, narrow canyon much as Niagara Falls has worn a deep chasm back from Lake Ontario.
Today Clark Reservation is a small, round lake nestled in a deep canyon stretching a mile east to Butternut Valley. The lake is the plunge pool formed where the mighty glacial river dropped over the cliffs. It's a beautiful, serene spot, with its picturesque lake cuddled within limestone cliffs.
I said, "As a boy scout, I often hiked to Clark Reservation. We found holes in the limestone which led down into caves. I never went deep in them, but there's supposed to be some deep ones. Including one beneath the lake."
Lee added another revelation, "You might note the entrance to Clark Reservation is on Seneca Turnpike—the old Indian path across the state. What you called the Warrior Path Running East and West in your Onondaga Dragon essay."
"Right," I said. "Half a mile north is Rock Cut, another ancient glacial channel. A mile south is Smoky Hollow, the earliest west-to-east glacial river channel. Both are part of what I call the Salina Dragon, but my understanding of them is incomplete. That area's been ripped up by limestone quarries."
"'Ever hear of a cave running fourteen miles from Onondaga Nation to Butternut Valley near Jamesville Reservoir?" Lee was slowly nudging me to tell my tale.
But I resisted. "'Yes, but I have few details. I know there's caves under Onondaga Nation. My Onondaga friends told me a little about them. I suspect they go down underneath the Big Hill." I deflected the conversation away, and said, "Did you know the height of Onondaga Lake was regulated by a ledge of limestone?"
"'No,'' said Lee. "I know they lowered the lake ten feet or more in the early 1800's when they dug the State Ditch at the north end. I wonder where the original shoreline was before the level dropped?"
I peered at my maps. The State Ditch is a wide, arrow straight trench connecting Onondaga Lake to Seneca River. "A limestone ledge surfaces somewhere on the north. When they dug the Ditch, they dynamited the limestone to lower the lake level. I'm looking at my maps now to see where the ledge might be. I can't even see where the original creekbed was."
"'It would be worthwhile to find out more," Lee offered. "We need to know the shoreline in 1788 to know where the mouth of Onondaga Creek was. Then we could pinpoint the place of beginning and the original Onondaga Reservation boundary."
"Isn't it curious the lake level was set by the ledge of hard limestone," I said as I scanned the map for clues. "It must have kept the lake level constant for thousands of years."
A new thought popped into mind. "'You study sacred geometry. How's this for a puzzle? Onondaga Lake is oval. It's about one mile wide and five times as long. I'll have to get a ruler to measure it. It's critical to know the original shoreline but even if it dropped ten feet the proportions are nearly the same. On the west the mouth of Nine Mile Creek brings water from Otisco Lake. The tail of Onondaga Dragon." My words were fragments as I wrestled to bring my insight to clear focus.
I continued, "The peninsula at Nine Mile Creek divides the lake in two sections. One is slightly larger. Can't tell from my map now, but I've a hunch the lake is divided in Phi proportions. You know, the Golden Mean? Or the Divine Proportion?"
"Yep!" Lee's voice rose in excitement. "The proportion used in the Greek Parthenon and Egyptian Pyramid. Considered by ancients to be the sacred proportion which governed the natural world. Much like Pi, the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle. One of those troublesome irrational numbers which rational mathematicians can't precisely put their fingers or figures on."
"Right," I concurred. "And Phi was used to predict the distances pf the planets from the sun by Kepler. Phi was used in Galileo's study of human proportions. Years ago, I spent a day in the Syracuse University Math Library tracking down information about Phi. I only found a dozen books which mention it., but they were fascinating."
"Well, modem rational math doesn't like to confront the irrational inclinations of Nature and Divine," Lee said. "But ancient Pythagoreans of Egypt used a Pentagram, five pointed star, as their symbol, so they knew things modem math forgot."
"I think so. Phi is the ratio of the side to a diagonal of a pentagon. So it's based on five sided symmetry. I now wonder if Onondaga Lake incorporates that proportion in its outline?"
"That certainly would be curious," Lee mused. "If ancient temples used Phi as their basic proportion, then Onondaga Lake is something of a natural sacred temple. It's interesting the Iroquois began as a Five Nations Confederacy."
"I'm glad to have you to talk to about these obscure ideas. In a modern world of shopping malls and industrial exploitation, Onondaga Lake's near dead condition is an accurate image of the sorry state of our natural world." My excitement faded to sadness.
"In your dowsing of ancient sites, have you encountered anything at the north end of lake?" Lee asked.
"No," I answered. "I've rarely been there. Have you?"
"The ancients had a pattern to their sites," Lee replied. "They had a center at one end of the lake. They must've had one at the other end."
I focused on the upper end of the map's blue oval. The area is flat with few brown contour lines to indicate rising terrain.
Lee continued, "I've been many places on the lake. Marley's always gave me the creeps, so I avoid it. I've meditated quite a bit on the east and north. One place in the northeast sends chills through me. I get grotesque images of gruesome scenes. I feel the energy there is very disturbed—worse than Marley's."
My eyes fell to the northwest corner in Long Branch Park. Several concentric circles of brown lines indicated a small hill. I was struck by how this one small hill protruded from an otherwise flat landscape. An idea formed in my mind. I mentioned this to Lee. "There's a small hill in the northwest. From the look of it, I'd guess it's an Indian mound."
"No, this was in the northeast, near Willow Bay," Lee said.
"I see nothing on my map there, but some mounds are too small to show on a topo map. And there's other constructions besides mounds. Often, I find large boulders and markstones. Someday we can go there together, and I'll dowse the area you talked about. When do you think these activities went on?"
"Tm talking 8,000 to 10,000 years ago," he answered.
"That's a good deal older than the mounds I've found. I date the sites I found at 3,000 to 5,000 years. I've never tried to dowse for sites older than that, but there's no reason I can't try. If we put our talents together, maybe we'll boost our perception."
"Let's try when the weather's warmer. It's a mite chilly out there now. As I remember, quite a wind blows off the lake."
I smiled to remember our bitter cold adventure. "Sounds like fun. But this brings something to mind. I'm overwhelmed by the infolded events and images which surround Marley's. I can't explain it, but there's too many coincidences. I can't believe all this is just because of a shopping mall and PCBs. I've never seen so many odd circumstances and meaningful images woven so tightly around one situation. I can't shake the feeling there's something very, very odd taking place."
"Yes, that's occurred to me, too. Seems mighty peculiar. Mighty peculiar." Lee was obviously deeply moved.
"There's elements of an awesome tale here. Maybe when it's over my reward will be to write a book. Seems obvious Pyramid won't pay me to hold up their mall. So far it's been a gut wrenching adventure. I just hope I survive it to see the end of it. The last few weeks pushed me to my limit. I was living one day at a time. Now I'm up to one week at a time. I keep wondering, why me? How'd I get in this incredible situation?"
"'Yes, I noticed you're looking a mite thin," Lee said.
"Not just physically, either. I'm on a thin edge emotionally. I've never prayed and meditated so much in my whole life." I let my fatigue and anxiety slip into my voice.
"I think you're doing just fine," Lee said warmly.
"Thanks. I need reassurance. Hardly anyone understands what I'm doing and few can offer me advice. I hope this is over soon. I don't know how much longer I can sustain this."
"One day at a time," Lee responded.
"The infolding of people, events, images, and metaphors is far too meaningful to be what this seems on its surface. There's something else. I wish I knew. The right friends at the right places, the right times to help the right things happen. The arrangement of forces and events. The name Pyramid. And Marley. White gold—black gold. Those two airplane rides. The years I spent studying central New York's ancient sites. The Salt Treaty and the Salt City. 200th birthday of the Salt Treaty at The Place of Beginning. The Peacemaker Legend and the capital of the oldest surviving government in North America. Onondaga Dragon. Myths and legends of the Fmger Lakes….
"Such an infolding of meaningful symbols is too great to be coincidence. Like some unseen spiritual power is writing a script, and we tiny humans act out a drama that's been waiting to unfold for centuries," my voice trailed off into emptiness.
"I understand," Lee empathized. "Have you asked yourself why you chose this life? It's no chance you're here now in this."
"I have. Maybe I'm just more debris sucked into the black hole of Marley's," I said with a hearty laugh.
Lee laughed but said, "Maybe you were a chief who signed the Salt Treaty. Now you're back to undo what was done."
"Perhaps. I feel strong Indian spirit in my soul, but I feel my soul is older than that even. I've no doubt this situation is the most important moment in my life. It's like a peak experience of my destiny. I wouldn't miss it for my whole life. Even if it kills me," said with laughter yet deep conviction.
"By the way, this reminds me why I called. Syracuse University Press is coming out with a new book titled Iroquois Land Claims. Maybe it can answer our questions about the treaties. Or at least shed light on the legal issues." I was excited by this.
Lee commented, "The Oneida's pushed their claim in the courts. There must be lawyers and legal issues behind their victory." I sensed intense curiosity in his voice. "Study of the Oneida claim may reveal flaws in the Onondaga treaties."
"Perhaps," I returned. "I called today but the book isn't available yet. I'll let you know when they're for sale."
"Please do," Lee said.
With that, we said good-bye. I sat quietly reviewing our talk, intoxicated by the multiple insights that emerged in it. But my vision remained clouded. Important fragments of knowledge remained hidden. I pondered the fragments which I had and wondered how to pull the veil aside. Looking at The New Times, I saw again the words "Environmental Confusion".
"How true," I thought. "We live in a sacred landscape filled with myths and legends dating far beyond the edge of official history. It's becoming clear to me that the Finger Lakes were inhabited hundreds—and even thousands—of years by unknown and forgotten civilizations which left subtle traces of their culture. Yet to modem minds this land is a spiritless terrain of minerals and soil to alter and manipulate to suit our will."
"The British Isles are filled with ancient sacred centers and megalithic constructions which embody the Legend of King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, St. Michael, the dragon slayer, and ancient heroes of antiquity. Modern Britain still bears names of ancient legends: Avalon, Avebury, Stonehenge, Glastonbury, New Grange, Boyne Valley, Silbury and Rollright."
"In North America the Finger Lakes were the scene of New World legends and myths. The land still resounds with names which speak the deeds and images of this Indian antiquity: Onondaga, Hiawatha, Osco, Seneca and Cayuga. Yet our modern material view born of European culture and philosophy is blind to this mystery vision of the land we inhabit, exploit, abuse and contaminate. How many other mounds and other relics of this ancient world are there in the Finger Lakes? How can I find them? Who will consider the evidence I've found?"
"At the center is Marley's, a powerful geomantic vortex where Pyramid intends to build an Ice Castle. In our ignorance, it's become our repository of dark, dangerous secrets which now hang over our future like a terrible dark cloud of vengeance. The Onondaga Dragon, coiled around this dark center, has emerged to light in my awareness. Where are we headed?"
With a mixture of excitement, sadness and fear I retrieved a ruler from my desk, and began to measure Onondaga Lake.
|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
Friday the papers trumpeted: Developer Falcone jumps on Oil City bandwagon. Unity Mutual Life Insurance hired Congel's former partner Michael Falcone to build an $18 million office park in Oil City on fourteen acres straddling Onondaga Creek. Unity Mutual Chairman John F. X. Mannion is an advisor to New York Gov. Cuomo. His son Pat is a Pyramid partner in the Oil City project. Congel was a Unity Mutual Director.
Nearby Pyramid will convert the empty New Process Gear Plant #2 into offices and a former Rescue Mission into offices and condos. Falcone said before Unity proceeds they want work to begin on Pyramid's other projects. Unity's decision is also contingent on commitment by Pyramid and the city to make road, sidewalk and other infrastructure improvement. Unless those conditions are met Unity will look in the suburbs.
Falcone's convinced Pyramid's plan to transform Oil City will work. "I think it's going to be a real new frontier there," he said.
I laughed. "Frontier, indeed!" I thought. "Just wait until the Indians show up! And I still don't know what to make of this geomantic dragon. But in the meantime, there's me."
THE HOLE TRUTH:
WITH THE FUTURE OF SYRACUSE
prepared by: David Yarrow
March 4, 1988
On Sunday, February 21, I punctured what I believe is the shallowest of 5 large commercial electrical transformers illegally buried on the shore of Onondaga Lake immediately adjacent to Marley's Scrap Metal Yard, proposed site of Pyramid Co.'s Carousel Center shopping mall. This illegal and dangerous action was necessary because private and public officials have refused to investigate the situation. Pyramid's engineers dug over 100 holes into the site and found nothing. I dug one hole, and, as predicted, punctured a transformer six feet below ground.
It was difficult to dig rocky fill with pick and shovel in 17 temperatures with 20-30 mile per hour winds. At 26 inches below ground, much sooner than I had anticipated, I encountered standing water in saturated soil. This water was saturated with and stunk of oil and gasoline; clots of oil could be seen floating on the water in the hole. I continued digging to 36 inches at which point the water prevented further progress. An eight foot length of iron pipe was then pounded another three feet into the hole. As predicted, at six feet below ground the pipe entered a cavity and slid easily downwards. Dark water rushed up into my hole. From this point, the pipe could be slid easily downwards another three feet with light, hand pressure. The amount of resistance offered would indicate the cavity was filled with a thick, viscous material.
I believe this object is an electrical transformer, and the thick sludge it contains is PCBs, an acutely toxic thick oily substance which was banned by the EPA in 1977. Before then, they were commonly used to insulate high voltage transformers. The five transformers buried at Marley's are each four feet in diameter and six to ten feet high, and contain perhaps several hundred gallons of PCBs which have sat many years in unstable, water saturated ground perched beside the Barge Canal.
This transformer is the shallowest of five buried at this one site. The other four are at least ten feet deep. These toxic bombs were dug on Conrail property, not Marley's, and will not be covered by the asphalt cap Pyramid claims will contain any contamination. Instead, these five metal cans of mutagenic chemical sit at the head of a deep trench which runs directly west into the mouth of the Barge Canal. Construction of Carousel Center is sure to disturb these rusted containers and force their oil to ooze to the surface where stormwater runoff will wash them rapidly into Onondaga Lake. The steady winds which blow across this southeast end of the lake are strong enough to pick up PCBs and disburse them by air across a broad area which includes the Syracuse Regional Market.
On Tuesday, February 23, I informed the NYS DEC of the results of my dig. On Thursday, I informed the press, Pyramid and several city and county officials of my results. On Friday, I informed Conrail, EPA and the NYS Attorney General about puncturing a metal can of sludge at six feet as predicted. No one offered to go the site and inspect it with me. No one offered to obtain a sample of the contents of the metal can I punctured. No one expressed a commitment to uncover the truth of what is buried. Rather, I have been told to stay away from the site or face prosecution for trespass.
On Monday, I visited the burial site again. Nothing had been done. Nothing had changed. No new footprints evidenced any serious investigation underway. That afternoon I called NYS DEC, Conrail, Pyramid, and the EPA a second time. Tuesday, I called NYS DEC's Regional Attorney, Conrail and Pyramid a third time. On Wednesday, I called NYS DEC's District Director and Pyramid. I received no assurance that my hole will be investigated and the PCBs removed.
I remain convinced there is a great danger there which no private or public official wants to recognize and take responsibility for. I believe it is my moral responsibility to pursue this situation until I receive definite assurance that it will be intelligently and honestly investigated. The Right Action is to obtain a sample of the sludge in the cavity for test to determine its chemical composition. If this sludge is indeed PCBs, then the only Right Action is to remove these transformers from the ground as quickly as possible and clean any contamination from water and soil at the site. I remain unconvinced that Pyramid or the NYS DEC have a sincere commitment to uncover the truth of what I have found buried on the shore of Onondaga Lake.
On February 4, Bruce Kenan of Pyramid promised to meet with me within a week to review my concerns. He has yet to meet with me, nor does he return my phone calls, reply to my letter, or respond to my press releases.
On February 8, DEC staff informed me I had "insufficient evidence" for an investigation. On February 21, I provided such evidence: as I predicted, at six feet below ground at Marley's, I punctured a metal canister full of thick oily sludge. The DEC still refuses to investigate.
Until I am assured by the proper officials that they have taken the Right steps to determine what is in the container I punctured, I will keep a close eye on Marley's Scrap Metal Yard. If no proper official will, I am prepared to extract a sample of sludge from the punctured cavity for PCB testing. . I am prepared to dig more holes and puncture more transformers if that is what is required to get an investigation of the contents of those five rusted metal canisters. I am prepared to be arrested for trespass if that is what is required to get official attention to this situation.
Beyond these five transformers, I have several other questions about the advisability of building a $150 million shopping mall at Marley's. Where are the other transformers buried at Marley's? What other hazardous materials are buried there? Why is there so much water so close to the ground surface? What is that water? Why is this water table 20-25 feet above the Barge Canal? Why does it stink of oil and gasoline? Why is industrial oil being allowed to pollute Onondaga Lake? How could Pyramid's engineers bore over 100 holes into Marley's and find "nothing"?
And beyond such immediate environmental questions, I have serious concerns that the tremendous historic significance of this plot of land beside Onondaga Lake remains undiscovered, ignored and is about to be paved over. It is my carefully studied view that buried under 40-60 feet of fill at Marley's is the "Navel of Syracuse:" the original mouth of Onondaga Creek emptying into Onondaga Lake. At this spot, referred to in the 1788 Salt Treaty between New York State and the Onondaga Nation, history and the Earth gave birth to the salt industry and the Salt City. It is my profound belief that unless this piece of land is restored to health, the vitality of Syracuse as a whole will suffer.