|The Dragon and the Ice Castle
Rediscovery of Sacred Space in the Finger Lakes
Part One: Chapter Twenty Eight
Until Hell Freezes Over
Valentine Day, Monday, March 14, 1988
I failed to go to Marley's Sunday to take a sample from the cavity. It would be a week before I could make another attempt. I now had five days to find another way to resolve the situation. Perhaps Friday's Herald article would add weight to my case and force Pyramid to respond. I had little hope, but since I didn't look forward to extracting a sample, I had to try.
I headed downtown with a sign which said:
Why is Pyramid
with the Future of Syracuse?
Moses 4000 BC
David Yarrow 1988.
The background was an upside down pyramid. I felt foolish, but whoever read it was amused.
My first stop was Pyramid. I leaned my sign against a pillar of their building and took photos. My sign was tiny, lost in front of the three story monolithic facade. Inside, the receptionist said Bruce wasn't in, so I had her copy the message on my sign.
At City Hall, in the hall near the Mayor's door, sat a wooden hobby horse behind a silk tasseled rope. A sign explained this was from a carousel being restored. I thought, "Now I know where the Mayor stands. Obviously he's riding the carousel." I propped my sign against the display and took a photo.
I stopped in the Common Council Office upstairs. Joan Christensen was meeting another Councilor. A Council Meeting was at 1pm, and the office buzzed. Joan's meeting with her colleague ended, and we chatted. She complimented me on the positive newspaper coverage.
"Yes," I said, "it's almost completely favorable. I was afraid they'd make me out as a kook. But I'd be happier to know those monsters will be out of the ground."
"Have you heard from Bruce?" she asked.
"Not a word by phone or letter. Did you call him?" I'd asked her and Mark Stanczyk to call Bruce about the transformers.
"Last week. He said they don't plan to dig new holes. Their own studies failed to show buried transformers or PCBs."
"I've done my best to be sure about them short of digging one up," I said. "They are there. Did he say anything else?"
"He said they wouldn't do anything soon, but he'd go there in the spring for an inspection." Joan reported.
"It was nice of him tell me himself," I retorted.
"Yes, well, this is a funny business," came Joan's reply.
"You mean I don't have power, and you have to be powerful, not right, to get action. Do you think they take me seriously?"
Joan looked at me bleakly, "I'd like to think so. They're smart people, but they're also very powerful and used to getting their way. Hardly anyone in City Hall dares stand up to them. So I've little reason to believe Bruce's promise will come true."
I recognized her kind and diplomatic understatement, underscored by the look on her face. "Those transformers must be removed before they build. I believe there's more buried at . other sites. God only knows what else is buried under Marley's. It's a big place and could hide" a lot. It's foolish to build on such a site. But then, it's no mystery to me why they picked that place. I wonder if they chose it consciously or unconsciously."
Joan seemed to miss the implication of my last comment and only said, "They have faith in their engineering study which they paid good money for. They have no reason to believe you."
I leaned forward and spoke with intensity, "There's more danger than PCBs at Marley's. The water table has a scum of oil floating on it. The place is a fire hazard. If that oil scum rises to the surface, God knows what could happen. At the least it could produce noxious odors in the mall. My fear is a large fire will spread contamination in the air. They have to listen."
Joan's eyes widened. She was silent, then said, "Talk to Michael Falcone of Pioneer Development. He used to be Congel's partner until they had a falling out. Michael's office in 500 South Salina was contaminated with PCBs in a transformer fire several months ago. Maybe he can talk to Congel."
This startled me. I knew Joan had tossed me, if not her Ace, then her King. From Roger Knight, her political adversary, I knew Falcone was a major donor to her election campaign, a fact which aroused Roger's ire. To give me Falcone's name meant she not only believed me, but had faith in my efforts.
I walked Joan to her Council meeting, chatting about a hot item on the agenda. Then I headed for Shearson-Lehman-American Express to see Mark Stanczyk. The receptionist called him and told me to go on back. Mark met me in the hall.
"Well! David! Hello! How goes it?" Mark was eternally gregarious and pumped my hand with electoral vigor.
"No better than last time we talked," I said. I stepped in his office and perched my sign on a chair. "Pyramid still refuses to answer my calls or letters." I tried to match his enthusiasm.
Mark sat across from me and read my sign aloud, "Why is Pyramid playing Pharoah with the future of Syracuse? Moses, 4000 BC. David Yarrow, 1988." He laughed, "That's great!"
"Yes, if Pyramid wants to play Pharoah, I'll see if I can cook up ten plagues." We both laughed at my joke and my tired spirit fed on Mark's light and humorous presence.
'Thanks for keeping me up on your correspondence," Mark said. "It's fascinating and fun to read."
"Glad you enjoy my writing. I've had a little fun writing it. But the ordeal has been no fun at all." Mark's smile faded and his head nodded in understanding. "Did you talk to Bruce?"
"Yes," Mark replied. "We had a gentleman's conversation. Nice man. He said he doubts there's transformers at Marley's, since their engineers put over 100 holes in the site and didn't turn up anything like what you claim. But he said sometime this spring he'd take you for an inspection of the site."
"So he doesn't believe me but he's willing to humor me. You know they plan to begin construction this spring?"
"So I've heard."
"What do you think, Mark? What can I do?"
"Well, you haven't got any power, so you can't force them to listen. Seems Pyramid has decided to ignore you, and they have the power to do that. They can put you off until they have their $120 million from the city and approval from DEC. Once they have the thing under construction, you won't matter. So they'll probably ignore you until hell freezes over."
"Or catches fire. Listen, Mark, if you dig a hole in a place called Oil City, what would you expect to find in the ground?"
He looked at me a moment, then said, "Oil?"
"Right. That's what I found last month when I dug my hole. Oil. I dug my hole three feet deep. When I finished there was water in it at 28 inches. And floating on the water were large clots of oil. That hole stunk of fuel oil. Suppose you have a bucket of sand and you fill it half full of water."
Mark nodded, so I continued, "Then you pour a quart of gasoline in the bucket. Where does the gas wind up?"
Mark looked at me and thought. At last he said, "Oil doesn't mix with water and is lighter, so it would float on the water."
"Very good," I said. "Almost everyone I ask gets the answer. Since Feb. 21 I've been convinced there may be an oil scum floating on a water table at Marley's. I dug my hole in the north corner, as far from an oil tank as you can get at Marley's. Why was there oil and gas in my hole? Where did it come from?"
"So what are you saying?" Mark asked.
"The place is not only hazardous but flammable. This is so scary I avoided mentioning it in press releases so far, or telling many people. But I'd like someone competent to go out there, do a study, and prove me right. Or wrong, for that matter."
Mark's bushy eyebrows rose for the ceiling as he stared at me with wide eyes. "Do you smoke?" he asked, suddenly smiling.
I looked at him carefully, then replied, "Not at Marley's. Not anymore." I joined him in a smile.
Continuing, I said, "So I'm not about to walk away from this. Or let Pyramid ignore me. As I see it, I have only one good option left. That's to go there and sample of what's in the cavity I punctured Feb. 21 and get it tested. If it turns up PCBs, no one can ignore me and Pyramid will have to dig more holes at Marley's. If there's no PCBs, I'll disappear and no one will hear from me again." I wasn't smiling now.
"What about the EPA?" Mark asked.
"I called them on February 6. Two weeks later, I was told this a state jurisdiction, and would be handled by DEC. So far, DEC has done nothing. I get no phone calls or letters in response to my press releases and letters. They say I have insufficient evidence, and probably think I'm a kook."
"Did you talk to the County Environmental Director?"
"Yes. He assured me PCBs are everywhere so I needn't worry. My own inside source says he thinks it's a waste of time."
Mark was silent looking out his window. Finally he said, "I guess your best course is to take a sample and get it tested. If it's toxic, you've got them. Without a lab test no one will listen."
I looked at Mark and said nothing. Finally I stood up. "I guess that's it. I've taken enough of your time. Thanks."
Mark stood and pumped my hand. "Wish I could help more. Where are you headed next?"
"Civic Center, County Executive's office."
"I'll walk over with you. I've got a Legislative session this afternoon." He pulled on his coat, grabbed his bag and we left together. On the way we talked about the past and where various people are now. On Warren Street, Mark would spot someone he knew and hail them in a booming voice. It didn't matter if the person was across a busy intersection, Mark erupted in gregarious greeting. He knew many people - our walk was constantly interrupted. Looking at his strong face, bushy eyebrows and vociferous demeanor, I thought he just might be the first Democrat elected County Executive.
When we came to our parting Mark pumped my arm again, saying, "Keep me posted. If I can do anything, let me know."
"Well, I might need bail money," I said through a smile and turned to leave Mark chuckling behind me.
At the Civic Center I was able to talk with the Assistant County Executive. He listened carefully, took notes arid promised to call Bruce Kenan. I didn't think it would have much effect, but at least it added another stone to my pile.
I rode an elevator to the eighth floor and threaded my way through filing cabinets to the Environmental Director's office. He was on the phone so I sat to wait. Looking around, my eyes saw a poster perched leaning against the wall on a bookcase.
It was The Great Law of Peace and the principles of Iroquois government in careful calligraphy. Around the edges were artist's likenesses and names, in native Iroquois, of the 49 chiefs of the Six Nations Confederacy. Much of the text was in Iroquois. I studied it until the Director finished his call.
"Where did you come by this?" I asked.
"Oh, a Mohawk chief gave it to me. It's in Mohawk. I used to work for St. Lawrence County up north and got to know a few chiefs. Quite a few of them, including some Onondagas."
"Do you know Irving Powless, one of the Onondaga chiefs?" "Yes, I know him well." He said Irving's name in Onondaga. Two men entered on official business. The Director gave his attention to them and I was forgotten. It was obvious I'd accomplish nothing, so I left, wondering about his poster. How could an Environmental Director with no concern about PCBs have a serious comprehension of the Peacemaker Legend? But the poster was there and the awareness is in his mind.
My last stop was one I'd avoided for three weeks: Syracuse Fire Department. I didn't relish discussing Marley's with a Fire Inspector, but he might listen and investigate. With trepidation, I crossed State Street to the Public Safety Building which houses the Fire Department. The office was empty. The only man there was Deputy Chief for Arson Investigation—just the man I needed to see.
I sat by his desk and slowly explained the situation at Marley's: buried transformers, PCBs, DEC inaction, Pyramid's refusal, my hole, the oil scum. He listened without comment. I was aware he didn't look at me, but gazed at his desk.
"So, why is this any concern of the Fire Department?" His tone of voice sent a wave of tension into my gut.
Steadying myself, I replied, "I'm afraid there may be a fire if they move a lot of equipment onto the site and start digging. If so, the Fire Department should be prepared for what you might be up against."
"What do you expect the Fire Department to do?" His voice remained flat with an undertone of suspicion.
"I'd like someone to study the situation. If I'm right, someone should remove the danger. Or I'd like to know I'm wrong."
"I've been to Marley's to fight fires. The Department has always been afraid of Marley's. Anytime there's a fire there, our boys are nervous." His voice was heavy. Clearly he took no pleasure in our discussion. Nor did I.
"I've been there and understand. I don't like making these charges, but I have a real fear about the place. I've tried for nearly two months to get this looked into."
Still not looking at me, he said, "I've been an arson investigator over ten years. I've heard all kinds of stories and seen dangerous fires. I'll see someone looks into this."
"I'm glad to hear that," I replied.
He said, "You need three ingredients for a fire: fuel, oxygen and igniter. Just because there's gas doesn't mean there'll be fire. There's no oxygen underground to support a blaze."
|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. But what would happen if the oil scum washed to the surface by a rise in the water table?"
He softened slightly, saying, "You have a point. A situation can change, often without warning or against reasonable plans. But what you describe isn't an immediate fire hazard."
I stood to leave. "Thanks. I hate to dump this on you but I ran out of places to turn to."
Still without looking at me, he said, "We’ll look into this to see if there's any truth to this story of yours."
My face flushed and I said quickly, "This isn't a story. I've been to Marley's and done my own investigation. I dug my own hole. I saw and smelled fuel oil. What I told you are facts, not inventions. Please look into this."
I turned and left.