Dear Editors, 

I am writing to express my full support for The Emory Wheel Editorial Board’s March 29 editorial, “Don’t go down the wrong path, Emory,” opposing the proposed concrete path through Lullwater Preserve and Wesley Woods. As Emory’s next-door neighbor for over two decades, I was shocked and appalled to learn that Emory was breaking its promise to maintain this preserved forest. In Emory University v. Levitas, in the early 1990s, the University represented to the Georgia Supreme Court that its goal was to protect this “22-acre, rare first-growth forest. . . .” 260 Ga. 894, 895 (1991). Indeed, then, Emory “promise[d] . . . to create a botanical preserve of the first-growth forest.” Id. That lawsuit was brought by Emory’s own honored alum, respected Congressman, lawyer, leader and my former neighbor Elliott Levitas (52C, 56L). He, too, believed in protecting the environment, and Emory promised him and the entire state of Georgia it would. It is an insult to Congressman Levitas’ legacy and a betrayal to his memory for the University to undertake this action now. 

The path is also inconsistent with the 2022 Land Classification Plan. Yet Emory seeks to convince all who listen that paving a 10- or 12-foot-wide concrete path through a “rare first-growth forest” is not “development.” It is a laughable argument that should be rejected outright. Paving a 12-foot-wide linear path — wider than the average traffic lane in America — would take years. Continuous movement of people during and after construction would certainly negatively affect, if not destroy, this fragile ecosystem.

What the editorial does not mention — and the PATH Foundation, the University and DeKalb County have failed to address — is that the current “scoping” study agreement between the PATH Foundation and DeKalb County, with the University’s blessing, contains no provision for any environmental impact studies or ecology studies. The PATH Foundation announced publicly at a March 8 meeting that it had not subcontracted with an ecologist and had no plans to do so. That is unconscionable. The University and DeKalb County could have and should have demanded it be included but did not. For shame.

The editorial rightly points out that the proposed path would cause significant harm to the bay starvine and Chattahoochee crayfish, both of which are protected species already struggling to survive. It does not mention the beautiful herons that nest on the creek’s banks or the deer, fox, other wildlife and birds who call this forest home. Prioritizing debatable human convenience over the survival of these important species and the health of the ecosystems that support them to check a “connectivity” box is irresponsible stewardship of this very special place. Instead, as stated by Carolyn Keogh (07C), assistant teaching professor of environmental science and chair of the Committee on the Environment, there are viable alternatives. In the corresponding news article, “Students, faculty debate DeKalb County’s plans to construct concrete path in Lullwater,” Keogh proposed that “the University should consider branching off of an existing path under Clairmont Road and utilizing existing gravel to go through Lullwater, instead of building an entirely new path.”

Finally, considering that Emory’s own students do not support the path, and bicyclists see little reason to use it, Emory should end its support for the project immediately and vocally. Emory’s President, Campus Services and specifically, Vice President for Campus Services Robin Morey, need to take note, heed the voices of students, staff, faculty, alumni and community and move to the available alternatives. 

In sum, I urge decision-makers to listen to the concerns raised by The Emory Wheel and the broader community. The University and DeKalb County must prioritize the protection of this precious forest and creek resource over questionable future convenience. Emory should keep the promises it made to Congressman Levitas, the Georgia Supreme Court and its community and protect this rare forest. 

Erika C. Birg (94L) is from Atlanta, Georgia. 

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