An eclectic gathering of community members and Cornell students made impassioned and compelling speeches opposing construction of the (Ezra’s tunnel) gate (at the December 6 Common Council meeting).
Most speakers were met with the cadence of snaps of approval and applause. Later Council members Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal conveyed powerful and logical arguments against the fence and the entire notion that it is the responsibly of the government to go around safety proofing the natural world. In a somewhat awkward moment, the public was reprimanded by Mayor Svante (Myrick). Members of the public were reminded of the posted decorum of the room and urged not to respond to speaker’s statements with verbal approval, clapping (or snapping), which effectively preserved the stale and bureaucratic atmosphere of the meeting.
When it finally came to discussing fencing off the legendary Ezra’s tunnel, some Common Council members clearly stated that they were acting on the behest of “experts” and groveled over the Cornell money paying for it. Several members stated they were being good stewards of public safety by voted on the recommendations of Joe McMahon (City of Ithaca) and/or Todd Bittner (Cornell), even if it was against the wishes of the community.
Complaints about lack of funding for warning signs and improvements were lamented. Grants for painting utility boxes were read and approved, but not a dollar could be found in the city budget for putting up educational signage around the gorges that could save lives. A few uncited and unverifiable claims like the gorge being “the most dangerous” were thrown around.
After several failed amendments and some procedural confusion, it was clear that the votes were there. The fence would be pushed through as quickly as possible. Leading the way, Deborah Mohlenhoff, backed by Seph Murtagh (and others), shot down any attempts to postpone the vote, add a sunset clause, do more research, allow for more public comment or change the language of the proposed motion based on proposals from Cynthia Brock.
The reopening of the tunnel could only come from the committee headed by Joe McMahon of the Ithaca Natural Areas Commission or his replacement. The same commission has been behind several other initiatives aimed at restricting community access or use of natural areas. One example was a proposed change in city code that would make it easier to prosecute the widespread practice of “illegal” swimming in the gorges. Ezra’s tunnel will now be a gated relic and technocracy reigns as our form of government in the heart of the Finger Lakes.
In one fell swoop, the Ithaca community and principles of good governance were betrayed by our elected officials. It is time to get organized and help reestablish a government that serves the will of the people of this community.