Can Fairway Hills golf course be green enough? Environmental issues divide residents over golf course

September 06, 1992|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

If you ask avid golfer Don Dunn, a well-maintained set of green links is about as wildlife-friendly as you'll see these days in a place frequented by people.

Fox, blue herons, geese and other critters thrive in bushes, streams and woods along fairways he's played locally. Reason enough, he says, to build Fairway Hills, an 18-hole, regulation golf course the Columbia Association is proposing for 186-acres of open land that weaves through the village of Dorsey's Search.

But critics of the proposal, which heads this week for a round of presentations to residents of the villages of Wilde Lake and Dorsey's Search, say that view is skewed, omitting the serious ecological havoc the golf course would wreak on wetlands, a river and a contiguous woods on the proposed site.

"This project will result in the wholesale destruction of trees. That alone shows the Columbia Association isn't concerned about the effect this would have on the environment," argues Virginia Scott, a resident of the Running Brook neighborhood, which would border three fairways if the course is built.

She and her husband, Tom, are among a group of opponents attempting to shift the debate over whether to build the course to a discussion of environmental consequences.

To achieve that end, the Scotts and other opponents have hired Richard Klein, president of Community and Environmental Defense Services, based in Maryland Line. The firm specializes in helping community groups raise environmental concerns about major projects, such as landfills, roads and golf courses.

Golf course supporters and staff members of the Columbia Association who have worked on the proposal, say the question shouldn't hinge on environmental consequences, but on whether the course represents a wise expenditure of association money.

At an estimated cost of $5.5 million, the golf course would be the second most expensive capital project ever for the Columbia Association.

The association has begun seeking county and state approvals for the project. If granted, the Columbia Council would decide during budget discussions in January whether to approve spending the money.

"We think we've done all the prudent things that can be done to avoid a lot of negative impact on homeowners" and the environment, says Robert Bellamy, director for club operations for the Columbia Association.

"The issue is whether this is a good project to spend association money on."

Aside from meeting state and county mandates to plant new trees to replace those cut down in construction, Mr. Bellamy notes, the association plans to apply chemicals frugally to enhance grass color and growth. And there is money available to plant additional trees to create barriers for homeowners who prefer not to watch duffers chip away at a ball in a nearby sand trap, he says.

While it's true that some residents whose homes would border Fairway Hills are worried about the effects lawn chemicals might have on fish and wildlife in the Little Patuxent River and other streams, that issue can be addressed by encouraging use of hardier grasses that don't need the chemicals and other measures, says Mr. Klein, the consultant.

Of greater concern, he says, are design plans for the course which call for a contiguous woods, which runs along the Little Patuxent River, to be clear cut in several areas for fairways. Fairways which would require significant cutting of trees include the fifth, 12th and 18th holes, design plans on file with the county show.

"The really big problem I see at this point is the fragmentation of the woods," says Mr. Klein. "Wooded corridors like this one are very important to all kinds of species of animals and birds, not to mention life in the streams."

Removing vegetation that shades water can result in water temperatures being raised enough to place life in the water at serious risk, says Mr. Klein. And carving up the woods destroys ** migration routes for several kinds of animals, particularly deer and what are called forest interior-dwelling birds, such as some types of woodpeckers, he argues.

"These birds have declined dramatically in Maryland for this very reason of fragmenting our wooded areas," says Mr. Klein.

Determing which trees and which kinds of trees would be felled under the proposal is impossible because the association did not submit that information with their site development plan filed with the county earlier this summer.

County planners have requested detailed information about types of trees and other vegetation on the property and a tree preservation plan.

Another concern Mr. Klein plans to raise is the effect the project would have on the wetlands throughout the site, particularly during construction when earth is being graded and there is a probability of soil runoff into streams.

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