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Natural Areas Wading Ban

The City of Ithaca Common Council has proposed, essentially, a human-contact-with-water ban for the City's designated Natural Areas (see map) in response to recurring instances of unsafe and inconsiderate behavior- particularly at second dam in Six Mile Creek. The Floating Classroom and the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network have submitted the following letter to Council, and encourage other concerned citizens to share their thoughts!

Please keep in mind:
  • We do NOT condone the abuse of our natural areas by anyone. 
  • We do NOT condone unsafe behavior
  • We DO support open use of our gorges and natural areas by people who are considerate and recognize that their actions effect others.
  • We DO support the creation of a community-action project to establish and socially enforce acceptable behaviors for visitors to our natural areas. 
 Thanks Everyone!


Outlawing Wading in the City of Ithaca? An Ineffective Approach

August 3, 2016
RE: Common Council August 3 Meeting Agenda item 10.4, Discussion Item With Possible Vote: An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 114 of the City of Ithaca Municipal Code entitled "Natural Areas", Section 114-7 entitled "Prohibited Activities"

Dear Mayor and Common Council, City of Ithaca:

We recognize that the City is faced with a difficult situation, brought on by instances of unsafe behavior and the abuse of certain natural areas under its jurisdiction. However, we believe that the proposed amendment to the City of Ithaca’s Municipal Code for Natural Areas would be a costly and ineffective mistake. Criminalizing human contact (wading, swimming or otherwise) with publicly owned waterways, which the City has otherwise set aside for the benefit of the broader community, will not solve the problem of law-breaking and dangerous behavior in Six Mile Creek gorge, nor will it promote sustainable attitudes in the long term. These waterways are central to the character of Ithaca, and deserve a more carefully considered treatment.

We are advocating for preservation of wading and recreational rights for residents, where specific public health or safety concerns are not present; for effective enforcement of existing Natural Area ordinances by those authorized to enforce them; and, finally, for a two-year limit on any amendment adopted. This sunset clause should require reassessment and a meaningful community conversation before a ban on wading and water use could be extended.

As representatives of community organizations pursuing public advocacy and education missions, we recognize a responsibility to promote effective stewardship of our resources through social action. We look forward to working with resource managers, neighbors and concerned citizens to achieve that goal. With respect to the proposed amendment to Chapter 114 of the City Code, we submit the following concerns and suggestions, which we respectfully request the Common Council, and the Natural Areas Commission, to take into consideration.

Sincerely,

    Bill Foster, Director, Cayuga Lake Floating Classroom
    Hilary Lambert, Steward, Cayuga Lake Watershed Network



Our Concerns:
  • We are concerned about the apparent lack of enforcement of laws that are presently in effect in the Natural Areas. A review of prohibited activities (Sect. 114-7) reveals that consumption of alcoholic beverages, fires, camping, rock climbing, littering, amplified sound and other activities are listed, and penalties include fines of $100-$250 per violation or jail time. Further, other ordinances apply to acts of public urination, disorderly conduct, reckless endangerment, etc. If there is a reason that these prohibitions cannot be upheld in our gorges, then adding an additional prohibition does not seem a promising strategy. Alternatively, if there is not a specific reason these prohibitions are not being enforced, that perhaps they should be tested before the code is amended. See suggestion #1 below.
  • We are concerned about the unequal impact of the proposed amendment or different segments of our community. On one hand, individuals who prefer the Natural Areas, or who may not otherwise have the means to travel to, and pay for, a supervised wading/swimming area, are disenfranchised. On the other hand, individuals who are able to pay fishing license fees and purchase fishing gear, are exempted from this amendment. 
  • We are concerned about the unintended consequences of the proposed prohibition. Floating Classroom educators work with students from every school and neighborhood in the City of Ithaca, and our goal is to empower youth to interact more directly with the beautiful waterways around and in their city, and to take ownership of these resources, upon which they all depend. When we approach a stream for educational and exploration activities, particularly in downtown Ithaca where physical barriers (retaining walls) already limit access for the community, our students frequently tell us it is “illegal” to enter these streams. We are concerned that this legislation, even if it is limited to designated “Natural Areas”, will strengthen psychological and social barriers between our waterways and downtown residents. As has been well documented, the lack of connection between human populations and natural resources degrades a culture of stewardship, increases litter and results in urban stream corridors becoming dangerous, unsafe eyesores. Is this our vision for Ithaca?
  • We are concerned that the additional prohibition will have an increasingly broad impact in future years, even if it is presently conceived to target only a few abusive individuals. First, new Natural Areas may be designated, increasing the geographic extent of the water-contact ban. Second, with increasing financial pressure on City government, it is conceivable that fines from citations issued in Natural Areas will one day be viewed as a means of supporting code enforcement and/or the ranger program in the Natural Areas, and that citations will be issued much more liberally.

Our Suggestions:
  1. Work with the law enforcement community to create a strategy for enforcing laws that are already in the code. Areas of Six Mile Creek, which are particularly at issue, are easily accessible by mountain bikes, and officers should be able to time periodic visits for maximum effect. If gorge safety is a significant priority for our community, then our public safety officers should be present; not just gorge rangers. 
  2. As part of a comprehensive strategy for addressing safety concerns and encouraging responsible behavior in our Natural Areas, the Natural Areas Commission, with support from community organizations such as ours, should work with users and neighbors to create an effective Natural Areas steward program that would work in collaboration with the law enforcement community.
  3. In the event that Common Council determines that the proposed amendment, or a similar measure, is the best approach at the present time, a sunset clause should be incorporated to ensure that the impact of the amendment is still having a positive impact on our community. 

Hilary Lambert, Steward/Executive Director
Cayuga Lake Watershed Network
PO 348 Aurora NY 13026
steward@cayugalake.org
www.cayugalake.org


Bill Foster, Director
Cayuga Lake Floating Classroom
floatingclassroom@gmail.com
www.floatingclassroom.net
607-216-2238
                                                                                                                                     
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