Oswego County receives $5M from Love Canal settlement

Lucian McCarty

In 1983, a lawsuit was filed by the Department of Environmental Conservation charging the Occidental Chemical Corporation with destroying the waterways of New York State by dumping chemical waste in what became known as the Love Canal toxic waste disaster.

Finalized in 2006, the lawsuit has awarded $12 million to the state for damages inflicted on the lower Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River by Hooker Chemical and its successor the Occidental Chemical Corporation. On Thursday, representatives of the DEC announced how they will allocate the money, laying out 42 projects that the funds will go to.

“These projects will reconnect New Yorkers to fishing spots — old and new — and boost their catch, while improving the health of the Lake Ontario fishery,” said NYS DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. More than three decades ago, Grannis went to Niagara Falls as a New York State Assemblyman to witness firsthand what the chemicals dumped by Occidental Chemical Corporation had done to the region. “The chemical waste was particularly damaging to the sport of fishing in this area.”

Five million dollars of the funds will go toward projects in Oswego County. The top priority for the funds is the DEC’s Salmon River Fish Hatchery, which was allocated $2.2 million of the settlement.

The decision on the funds came after a year of public meetings held to determine where the money should be put. “It was a public process driven by the stakeholders — the people,” said Grannis. “Every single one of these projects (came from the public). That’s what makes this so valuable, (it’s) doing what the community thinks needs to be done.”

The announcement was made at a meeting Thursday packed with representatives of various environmental and fishing organizations as well as fishing enthusiasts. Lake Ontario is ranked as the primary fishing attraction in New York State, and the Salmon River is number four.

Organizations around the lake and individual fishermen contributed a lot of input about what should be done with the money.

“They recognize the importance in this hatchery and almost as an entity made this their number one priority,” said Director of Oswego County Community Development Dave Turner. “They said ‘put your money into the Salmon River Fish Hatchery because its so important to the lake.”

Regional Fisheries Manager Daniel Bishop said that the money will be used on a number of projects, but first and foremost on the water supply to the fishery. According to Bishop, the water that they currently use is often too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer, because 80 percent of it is reservoir water. “The main goal is to have cooler water in the summer and warmer in the winter. We could produce more fish if we had an optimum water supply.”

Besides boosting the output and efficiency of the fishery, the money will be used in Oswego County to make the natural resources in the area more accessible to residents and tourists as well as reducing their impact on the ecosystem. For instance, according to Bishop, the DEC is considering constructing trails along the Salmon River, which would reduce the impact of people by concentrating their traffic on areas that are least susceptible to erosion by foot-traffic. “There are places where you can tell that anglers have just gone repeatedly up and down the shore,” said Bishop, which can sometimes erode and otherwise damage the area. A trail, he said, would protect the environment, “and just make it a more pleasant experience overall.”

Despite the money awarded to the state, Lake Ontario still has advisories against eating too much fish caught in Lake Ontario dating back to the time of the Love Canal disaster. Often they advise limiting a person’s intake to one meal a month or less, and children under 15 as well as women of childbearing age are advised to not eat any fish. Still, Lake Ontario and Salmon Creek remain as premier destinations for fishing in New York, and with the settlement, it could become even more popular.