March 28, 2012

University Allocates $1.56 Million to Gorge Safety Efforts

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Responding to three accidental drownings in Ithaca’s iconic gorges last summer, the University announced Wednesday that it has committed $1.56 million to gorge safety efforts and, pending the approval of several projects, is considering devoting an additional $800,000 to these efforts.The $1.56 million is partially designated to fund efforts recommended in December by the Gorge Safety Steering Committee, an advisory committee that was formed in the fall, according to Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73.In accordance with the recommendations of the committee, the University will install more warning signs, produce an educational video to be shown during orientation and create a gorge stewards program — a student group that will help educate other students about which areas of the gorges, such as those in Treman State Park, are safe. The funding allocations come after three accidental deaths in the gorges during the summer of 2011, including the death of Nathaniel Rand ’12, who drowned in Fall Creek Gorge near Ithaca Falls. Rand’s family has been publicly critical of the University for what they have said is its lack of urgency in tackling gorge safety efforts since his death. Despite the increased funding, Rand’s father Jacob Rand said he remains skeptical that the money the University has committed to gorge safety will be put to good use.“It’s great that money has been [allocated to gorge safety], but the funds need to be devoted to specific projects on the Cornell campus and in cooperation with the City of Ithaca that will achieve the goal of preventing future gorge deaths,” Jacob Rand said.Rand expressed worry that the committee’s recommendations will not be implemented.“There is no doubt that the committee has made important recommendations; however, there have been many previous committees over the years, and these have not produced any substantive changes,” Rand said. “The University must avoid previous mistakes by objectively reviewing past actions and implementing a project management plan with clear accountability and timelines.”In addition to the $1.56 million, the University will spend $150,000 on gorge trail maintenance annually and has already spent $1.2 million repairing the Cascadilla gorge trail, according to a University press release. In 2009, the Cascadilla gorge trail was closed for maintenance. The lower portion of the gorge trail was reopened in 2010. Several individual projects that are not yet approved by the Board of Trustees will receive a total of $800,000 in funding. Each individual project must have a plan detailing how money will be spent approved before money can be allocated.“Once you know what you want to do, you write a project plan … and it eventually ends up with a group that approves all capital spending projects,” Opperman said. “You can’t do everything all at once.”Funding has already been approved for key safety features such as railings, fences and signs.The University plans to spend additional money on improving the safety of both Cascadilla and Fall Creek Gorges.“Funding is always put toward the open gorges because you need to maintain them,” Opperman said.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky