A Brownfield Site Restored and Put to Work

After years of industrial pollution on the shores of Syracuse's Onondaga Lake, the Solway Settling Basins is now setting a precedent for the restoration of contaminated brownfield sites, or parcels of land that previously housed industrial facilities.

Rather than fencing off the area, capping it with clay and plastic, and then posting "Keep Out" signs, a partnership of engineers, scientists, and new corporate owners decided to restore the ecosystem, remediate the environmental concerns, and turn the site into something beneficial.Once a thriving inland salt marsh, the 1,000 acres that comprise that settling basins are tainted with industrial waste, mostly the mineral calcium chloride, a byproduct of soda-ash production by a previous industrial operation.

Dr. Donald Leopold J. Leopold of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) has enlisted his students to plant native prairie grass, dune plants, and salt marsh species that will contain saline runoff, prevent erosion, and create a wildlife habitat. As luck would have it, the industrial waste, which contains an abundance of chlorides, is salty, contributing to growing conditions not unlike those that exist naturally in a salt marsh.

Shrub willow is also being grown on the settling basins—the first time productive willow shrubs have been grown at a site where former industrial operations resulted in soil with a highly alkaline content. The willow can be harvested, then chipped and transported to an upstate biomass plant for use in its electric-power facility. Eventually, part of the site will provide animal habitat—and perhaps even encourage recreational use by area residents. ::Newswise

Tags: Biodiversity | Conservation | United States