Greening Downtown

in Green Projects

Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse join forces to provide sustainable living downtown….

How we got here

Since 1998 Onondaga County has been under an Amended Consent Judgment (ACJ) in federal court to improve water quality in Onondaga Lake and its surrounding tributaries. The ACJ outlines several key steps in preventing pollution to the lake, including the reduction of combined sewer overflow events (CSO). CSO events occur when rain fall and snow melt flow directly into the sewer system. The volume of this stormwater combined with daily sanitary waste water, can sometimes lead to overflows in the system that can discharge polluted water into the lake and its tributaries. Under previous ACJ provisions, the County initiated several “gray” projects including sewer separation and other projects to improve water quality and manage stormwater runoff.

In November 2009, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis announced landmark revisions to the ACJ. Under the new agreement, Onondaga County will develop both traditional “gray” construction projects combined with innovative “green” projects to address stormwater. The new plan makes Onondaga County the first municipality in the country to include the use of green infrastructure in a consent order.

In 2009, County Executive Mahoney established the Save the Rain campaign to develop green infrastructure throughout the community. Save the Rain will focus on the development of several large-scale “green” demonstration projects. In particular, these projects will illustrate the use of sustainable solutions for capturing stormwater runoff and position Onondaga County as leader in the use of green infrastructure.

A new vision

Armed with a new environmentally-friendly plan, the County Executive began to look for partners throughout the community to support this new “green” movement. “While I was excited about our new plan, I knew we could not accomplish our goals without help”, said Mahoney. “Our plans are very aggressive. The success of this program will rest on the willingness of those in our community to join our efforts”. As it turns out, the County Executive didn’t have to look very far to identify a vital partner. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner had worked with County Executive Mahoney during their time on the City of Syracuse Common Council and was well aware of both the issues and opportunities surrounding the clean-up efforts for the lake. “I and my staff have really embraced the opportunity to work with Joanie and her team on this effort.  These projects have great potential to not only improve the health of Onondaga Lake, but also enhance the aesthetic and livability of our entire community”, said Mayor Miner. Officials from Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse began meeting to discuss ways to work together and develop projects throughout the city. The group identified several potential projects with a core focus in large surface areas. It soon became clear that City parking lots would be ideal candidates for redevelopment because they provided opportunities to convert large surface areas to “green” spaces.

The first of these new “green” projects is City parking lot # 21 located at the intersection of West Washington and South Clinton streets (formerly known as the Downtown Farmer’s Market Lot). Previously, City lot #21 incorporated traditional asphalt and impervious surface over the entire length of the property. The natural grading of the lot directs stormwater from the perimeter of the lot directly to catch basins located in the center section. These catch basins would then discharge water flow directly into the sewer system. In many cases during rain events, stormwater would collect in pockets along the center section and create puddling in several areas. Renovation of the lot presented a perfect opportunity for a highly visible “green” facelift in the heart of downtown.

“Green” improvements to the parking lot include several design features to collect stormwater and prevent flow from reaching the sewer system.  The guard rail in the center of the lot was replaced with an island containing six (6) trees to aid in transpiration of stormwater and provide shade to the lot. Water will reach the trees by way of porous pavers, and this new center island will act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater and storing it below the asphalt parking above.  The center island is really part of a large underground stone storage and infiltration bed (50 ft wide by 100 ft long by 3 ft deep). This system is designed to capture approximately 462,000 gallons annually, slowly discharging the captured stormwater into groundwater.  The lot also received new surfacing, created 6 new spaces, and added a new green space (3 ft wide by 170 ft long) with vegetation along the south perimeter of the property. The end result is the first “green” parking lot in the City of Syracuse.

Teamwork is key

Even more impressive than the final product was the wonderful teamwork displayed by several departments in both County and City government. Representatives from the County’s Department of Water Environment Protection, City of Syracuse Engineering Department, Law Department’s from the County and City as well as Offices of both the County Executive and Mayor, worked tirelessly to complete renovation of the lot by June 7, 2010. The total duration of the project lasted only about 5 weeks.

“The completion of the lot in such a short time period speaks volumes for how well our offices coordinated efforts”, said County Executive Mahoney.  “It was great to see our team meet that deadline. It shows just how much we can accomplish when we work together”. Mayor Miner agreed, “The truly impressive timetable in which this project was completed is a testament to both the competency and professionalism of the County team, and to the strong partnership between City and County staff in working together to reach a common goal.”

Restoration of City lot #21 is the first of several projects planned for this year. In addition to lot #21, the County and City have developed “green” plans for additional parking lot renovations, the Syracuse Creekwalk and additional projects throughout the City.  Syracuse residents can expect to see a more sustainable footprint as they travel through the City this summer. Thanks in part to the power of teamwork.

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