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EPA provides further details on Ithaca Falls work; barrier will be permanent


The current construction set-up at Ithaca Falls. Crews will be in and out of the site during the week through July at least, but gone on weekends.
(Photo by Matt Butler)

ITHACA, N.Y.—In the interest of implementing a more significant solution to the ongoing contamination issues near the base of the Ithaca Falls, the Environmental Protection Agency has clarified that its limestone barriers placed at the base of the cliff-face adjacent to the falls will be permanent.

The containment barrier will be located very close to the base of the cliff, meaning those who visiting the falls won’t have their paths impeded too much. However, EPA crews will begin working on the site soon, and will be there Monday-Friday until July or August.

The EPA’s Buffalo-based Community Involvement Coordinator, Mike Basile, was on-site Tuesday, May 18, for media availability. He said the EPA hopes that the barrier will serve as a more final solution to the contamination issues than previous approaches, which he called “band-aids.”

“What we’re doing is going into the gorge and removing lead-contaminated material from the gorge, and we’re going to be doing that for the next 2-3 weeks,” Basile said. “Once that’s removed, we’re going to install the barrier construction wall.”

Local environmental activist Walter Hang commended the contamination barrier plan, but additionally said it was an “exercise in futility” if the scope of the clean-up isn’t widened to include adjacent areas that contribute to contamination.

Federal money will be used for the weeks-long removal process, according to Basile. When installed, the barrier will be a series of limestone blocks that are two feet wide by about two feet tall, and about three feet long. They will extend for about 150 feet, parallel to the cliff by Basile’s estimation, and are meant to block potentially contaminated soil and sediment crumble from reaching the frequently used paths below the cliff. Behind them there will be three chain-link fences.

The barriers are, hopefully, the last in a line of proposed solutions to protect the public from the contamination that has been in the area for decades as a result of firearm testing next to the Ithaca Gun factory that formerly resided on the hill next to the falls. It was first discovered in the early 2000s, then clean-up, removal and containment strategies have continued for about the last 15 years, with the EPA removing thousands of tons of contaminated soil.

“We determined that there were some elevated levels of lead and arsenic in the wall that continue to come down the gorge face to the bottom of the gorge,” Basile said. “We made a decision that in order to protect public health and the environment, the only way to do this is remove any of the material that is still there and contaminated, and put the wall in. The wall will be the final element that will protect human health and the environment so people can continue to use the gorge area, and do it safely.”