Ithaca approved Cornell's proposal to build at the entrance of Ezra's Tunnel, above, which leads to gorges where two Cornell students have died in the last seven years.

Anne Charles / Sun Staff Photographer

Ithaca approved Cornell's proposal to build at the entrance of Ezra's Tunnel, above, which leads to gorges where two Cornell students have died in the last seven years.

November 30, 2017

Nearly 500 Sign Petition to ‘Save Ezra’s Tunnel’ From Council’s Proposed Gate

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Nearly 500 have signed a petition to stop Cornell from building a gate in front of a tunnel leading to the top of Ithaca Falls, where two students have died in the last decade but where many continue to swim during the summer.

Run anonymously by “A Concerned Cornellian,” the petition refers to the three to one vote by the City of Ithaca’s Planning Committee earlier this month that recommended blocking access to the Fall Creek Gorge.

The resolution, if passed by Common Council in December, would authorize the city to make a deal with Cornell to develop and construct a gate that would restrict access to the Fall Creek Gorge except for emergency or maintenance purposes.

Since the vote took place, many students have shared and signed the petition on social media, encouraging Common Council and Cornell to “implement safety countermeasures in the region without banning” Ezra’s Tunnel.

“I’m happy to see that so many students and community members feel as I do,” Zoya Kaufmann ’16 said. “It gives me hope that a critical mass of us will communicate our opposition to the council members, and in compelling manners.”

Instead of completely blocking access to the area, students proposed implementing other safety measures.

“If Cornell acknowledged the fact that students would explore the surrounding area, they could provide a thorough and explanatory guide that would inherently protect the students by making them aware of both the dangers and the benefits of the nature that surrounds us,” Adam Montgomery ’19 said.

Nathan Weierich ’18 said he would “probably” support a seasonal restriction of the area or one based on the level of the water.

Kaufmann raised concerns about the “unfortunate” timing of the vote during finals week, worrying it could impede students from showing up and “taking sufficient action.”

“I haven’t actually heard from a single student who is in favor of the gate, but I understand why any students of that persuasion might not feel comfortable speaking out — that’s definitely problematic,” Kaufmann said, adding that she hopes the campaign will not distress the families of the two students who have died in that area in the last seven years.

Alderperson Seph Murtagh ’09 (D-Second Ward), chair of the Planning Committee, said his vote to block access to the area has not changed, arguing the resolution could save lives.

“The idea that we can help by enforcing the laws that are there — it’s compelling to a certain level — but the resources to do the things that we want to do, whether it’s truly to make this area safe or even provide the resources for enforcement, are not there right now and it’s not going to materialize easily,” Murtagh said at the committee meeting on Nov. 8.

Alderperson Cynthia Brock (D-First Ward) warned that people may find more dangerous ways to access the area. Acknowledging the dangers of the creek, she recommended safety education about the dangers of the creeks and waterways.

“We, as a community, can do more to educate and grow a deeper understanding of the dangers and dynamics of these areas. Ithaca College and Cornell could educate students to interact with these areas safely,” she said in an interview Thursday with The Sun. “I would also like to see our news media engage in outreach to advise the community during rain and storm events to exercise caution.”

Common Council will vote on the Planning Committee’s recommendation in a Dec. 6 meeting.

“I will be there during the next vote,” Montgomery said, encouraging others to show up and voice their opinions.