ITHACA, N.Y.—After over 4 months of being inoperational, the security cameras on the Ithaca Commons have come back online.
The fiber feeding the footage captured by the cameras to City Hall was accidentally severed during the ongoing construction of the Asteri Ithaca project and Green Street Parking Garage on Jan 25.
The gap in surveillance on Ithaca’s highly trafficked pedestrian center has been kept quiet in order to maintain whatever deterrence to mischievous and criminal behavior the cameras may instill. Rumors have spread in the downtown Ithaca business community about the cameras being down, but the city did not make a broad effort to approach business owners about the lapse in service. Though the Downtown Ithaca Alliance was made aware of the cameras being down.
Julie Holcomb, the City Clerk and head of Public Information & Technology for the City of Ithaca first confirmed to The Ithaca Voice that the cameras were down in May. Her verification came after The Voice learned through a FOIL request that there was no surveillance footage of the April 11 incident in which Will Metro, more commonly known as “The Magic Man,” was attacked on the by a group of teenagers wielding pellet guns. Metro was physically assaulted again on the Commons on May 7 by an unknown assailant.
The city’s fiber connected to the security cameras was severed by the construction team working for The Vecino Group, the developers of Asteri Ithaca. The conduit — an underground tubing used to protect wiring — containing the security camera’s fiber line was unmarked on the diagrams that were supplied to The Vecino Group.
Tim Logue, the City of Ithaca’s Director of Engineering, said that anyone that knew the fiber line was there had retired. The line ran under the former Green Street parking garage, said Logue, and he stressed that once the damage was done, it was not easy to fix.
“Reestablishing the path to the cameras was not just ‘Oh, great! There’s a conduit there, just pull fiber through it,’” said Logue, explaining that the path for the fiber had been completely destroyed.
“With these complex construction projects, solutions don’t come at the snap of a finger,” said Holcomb.
“It’s a private development project, and the city has limited interface with that,” added Holcomb. She continued, “It’s not like our staff did it. Our staff couldn’t fix it.”
Attempts by Vecino to snake a new fiber line through other paths was, according to Logue, thwarted by accumulations of debris and ice in the other viable conduits. Logue said additional time was lost determining who was ultimately responsible for replacing the fiber, who owned it, and who was culpable for not presenting the location of the line. It turned out that FirstLight Fiber owned the fiber line connected to the city’s cameras.
Additionally, the phase of construction that Asteri Ithaca has been in was presented by Logue and The Vecino Group as incompatible with repairing the line. Expediting the work of reconnecting the city’s Commons cameras was apparently not possible. An option to snake a fiber line through conduits along a long and complex route in the city were explored, although it was deemed highly cost-prohibitive.
Bruce Adib-Yazdi, The Vecino Group’s Vice President of Development, said that the foundation work of Asteri Ithaca was happening when the camera’s fiber was severed, and asbestos-containing material was also discovered, which restricted the personnel and type of work that was possible on the site.
The Vecino Group has replaced the conduit and the fiber. At this time, the total cost of replacing the cable and the conduit hasn’t been determined, but Adib-Yazdi said that his company does not yet see a reason to ask the City of Ithaca to cover some of the cost of the work.
“At this point, we’ve not asked them to contribute anything towards it. At this point, I don’t have any reason to think we will,” said Adib-Yazdi. Though, he attached the caveat that he hasn’t seen the total cost of the work yet and that will be what determine for The Vecino Group how they ultimately feel the cost should be distributed.
Logue said, “To be honest, the most important thing is to get [the cameras] reestablished, and then we can settle the bill later.”
The gap in security footage, it can be assumed, has impeded certain investigations with the Ithaca Police Department (IPD). The Voice made several requests for interviews and comments with leadership at IPD, though they went unanswered.
Soon after this article was originally published, some details were added about business owners being aware of the cameras being down.
UPDATE (06/13/2022): The Voice received a FOIL request confirming that the date of the construction accident impacting the operations of the commons security cameras was on Jan 25. This article originally indicated that the cameras had been down for two to three months. In actuality, they were done for a little over 4 months.