This is a developing story. It will be updated with additional statements and information.
ITHACA, N.Y. — In a 6-3 vote, the city of Ithaca voted Wednesday night to fence off Ezra’s Tunnel after hearing out the community’s objections to the move.
Numerous people stood in the back of Common Council chambers holding signs or snapping their fingers in support of sentiment to —keep the natural area open.
About a dozen people who spoke about the tunnel during the public comments portion of the meeting were against the addition of two steel fences that will now keep people out of a natural area above Ithaca Falls.
The nearly 200-year-old tunnel offers access to the area where people illegally swim, sunbathe and hike during warm weather.
In the past six years, two people have drowned there. In August, Cornell University student Winston Perez Ventura, who reportedly could not swim, drowned at the location. In 2011, Kendrick Castro died while swimming in the area the day after he graduated from Cornell.
While the protesters called the deaths tragic, they say education, signage and enforcement of already existing local laws is a better approach to addressing danger in the gorges
Ithacan Logan Bell said, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a betrayal to the community to close off access to one of our gorges.”
Bell started the Free the Gorges movement two summers ago, rallying around the idea that governmental bodies should not have the authority to close off access to natural area or ban activities such as swimming.
He recommended an act of civil disobedience to protest the closure of the area, and others agreed with him.
Cornell University student Krzysztof Hochlewicz reminded city officials that they should represent the needs of their constiuents, not crumble under the pressure of Cornell officials who are pushing for the closure.
“You represent the people, not just the Cornell administrators not just the Cornell bureaucrats,” Hochlewicz said.
But the two people who spoke in favor of the closure cited safety concerns in regard to the area.
Joe McMahon, chairman of Ithaca’s Natural Areas Commission, described the area as dilapidated and unkept. He described the off-trail drop down a crumbling shale wall that leads people down a tunnel and up an unsteady, makeshift piece of plywood that offers access to the natural area.
He said, “I wish the overlook were a gem of this city. It should be. It’s as simple as that.”
But he said without the funds available to make the area safe, the city should close the area, at least temporarily.
Related: Should the city close off Ezra’s Tunnel to protect people or is that ‘dumbing down’ Ithaca’s natural areas?
Disclosure: The Ithaca Voice published an editorial Wednesday in opposition of closing off Ezra’s Tunnel. It can be read here. We do not believe that has impacted our ability to report the facts from this meeting. Direct questions and concerns to Executive Editor Mike Blaney at email@example.com