Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photographer

North Campus by air, populated almost entirely by freshmen.

September 26, 2018

Activists Call On Cornell to Clarify Environmental Impacts of North Campus Housing Project

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Student and citizen environmental activists continued to push back on the University’s environmental assessment of its proposed expansion of North Campus at the Ithaca Planning and Development Board Meeting on Tuesday, despite an announcement that the project is expected to achieve a higher rating from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design than previously thought.

Representatives from Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, consultants for the North Campus Residential Expansion project, announced that the development will be able to meet LEED Gold standards. Previously, the project was only expected to meet LEED Silver standards.

LEED is system that classifies the sustainability of buildings based on the number of points awarded for meeting certain criteria, such as energy use and design. The certification level, which can be certified silver, gold or platinum, is a comprehensive measure that can be achieved through any combination of points.

“This project is being designed for LEED Gold certification,” said Arvind Tikku, an architect for ikon.5 architects, a firm involved in the project. “We are working toward achieving those goals, and we believe we will accomplish those goals.”

Despite testimony from Tikku that the buildings will achieve energy efficiency 35% above American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers code requirements, that the expansion will require no new gas infrastructure and that Cornell’s overall energy use will decrease even with the project’s completion, many students and local climate activists expressed concern during the period for public comments.

Several individuals from Climate Justice Cornell spoke out, citing concerns about the plan’s failing to account for upstream methane gas emissions and the University’s lack of transparency.

Julie Kapuvari ’19, CJC general body organizer, announced the results of a petition circulated by CJC urging Cornell to release an Environmental Impact Statement. According to Kapuvari, the petition gathered just under 600 signatures. The petition also included a section where community members could write a comment, and 60 of these were written by students, alumni and members of the public, Kapuvari said.

“Almost all of the comments pertain to the lack of a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement,” she said.

Many members of the public echoed CJC’s calls for an EIS during the period for public comment, including Buzz Lavine, an activist with renewable energy-supporting group No Fracked Gas Cayuga.

Kapuvari also cited petition comments complaining that students were ill-informed of the expansion and pushing back on the University’s claims that large windows in new buildings would benefit campus mental health.

“After conducting this petition, we have found that many students either had no idea that there was even an expansion on North Campus in the first place, and many students said that there are several more important and directly efficient methods that would support mental health for students,” Kapuvari said.

During the meeting, Tikku said that all of the buildings’ windows that supply daylight are “really for the wellness and the health of all of its inhabitants.”

Multiple members of the Board expressed uncertainty about their ability to assess the project’s impacts, given the extent of technical and scientific knowledge underlying the project.

“We’ve seen a lot of data,” said Board member Mitch Glass. “I think the data needs to be clarified, because I think we’re getting two stories. … I’m unclear which to believe.”

Several Board members suggested including the counsel of independent experts to help the Board parse arguments coming from Cornell and critics of the plan. A special session to discuss the project more in-depth privately among the Board is tentatively set for Oct. 30.