Syracuse, N.Y. (NCC News) — Every Saturday morning at 11 a.m. Lanessa Chaplain and a small group of volunteers canvass the South Side of Syracuse. They start at the Dunbar Center on South State Street and work their way north past Dr. King Elementary School into Pioneer Homes, and south past East Colvin Street.
“We want community members to understand that if there were 100 comments leading up to now, 80 of them were not you,” Syracuse Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens said. “We need you to change that dynamic. That’s not a goal, but that’s a message to stakeholders who have not been heard.”
Chaplain, an attorney with the local chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), said the last chance for these stakeholders, mainly South Side residents, to be heard is when the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) opens a 45-day public comment period in June.
“There’s been ten years of dialogue on I-81 with a gaping hole of people of color being involved in the conversation,” she said.
Their most pressing concerns are relocation and the safety of living next to a construction site, Owens said.
“People are saying there are clear health issues in keeping people in that area, particularly people east of the highway who are blocked in by the hospital,” Owens said.
Owens is skeptical of the DOT’s claims that these residents will not have to relocate.
“I just don’t understand how that’s the case,” she said. “It’s already unacceptable people live where you can throw a rock and hit a highway, let alone a long-term construction site.”