Environmental hazard or valuable asset? Public hearing on golf course highlights opposing views

June 18, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The argument over whether Columbia should build an 18-hole golf course traversing the Little Patuxent River and tributary streams continued last night, as about 100 proponents and opponents attempted to sway state environmental officials.

The state Water Resource Administration held the public hearing at Howard Community College to focus on issues concerning water use, water quality and wetland disturbance. But many speakers gave long and impassioned speeches, offering a gamut of reasons why the course should or shouldn't be built.

Opponents argued that the clearing of trees, and the altering and filling of wetlands to build the course would disrupt wildlife habitats and cause environmental damage to the river. They urged that alternatives -- including a shorter course that wouldn't play across the river -- still be considered, even though the Columbia Council already has approved $5.2 million for the project.

The council acts as the board of directors for the Columbia

Association, which has applied for permits to do construction work in the river's flood plain and surrounding wetlands, which filter pollutants. The large expenditure for the course was a controversial issue during the council's budget hearings last winter.

Proponents argued that an 18-hole, championship course would be an asset for Columbia and that some bought property in the area because they knew a golf course was planned. Many residents support building the course -- the second in Columbia -- to meet demand and relieve crowding at Hobbit's Glen Golf Course, they said.

Columbia Councilman Chuck Rees strutted to the podium wearing a golf visor and toting a golf bag and clubs. "Fore!" he shouted, then added, "No. Against."

"I believe the people of Columbia are against the golf course five to one," said the Kings Contrivance village representative, citing his campaign surveys and criticizing the council for not holding a referendum on the issue.

But council members who favor the project outnumbered Mr. Rees.

"I'm convinced the facility represents an intelligent investment for the community," said Councilwoman Evelyn Richardson of Dorsey's Search village.

"On the environmental aspect, CA has an excellent reputation for handling environmental issues. The Columbia community will demand no less of this project," she said.

The 204-acre course would be built west of Route 29 and south of Route 108, through the villages of Dorsey's Search, Town Center and Wilde Lake.

Town Center village board Chairwoman Donna Rice said the board always has supported building the course as a "much-needed asset" for Columbia.

"We are concerned about nature and animals, but we'd like for this situation to be put to rest," she said.

Plans call for permanently filling 350 square feet of low vegetation wetland to construct a tunnel. Trees would be cleared on 1.57 acres of forested wetland, and on another 1.2 acres within a 25-foot wetland buffer. The wetland areas where trees would be removed and replaced with turf would remain wetlands, though their characteristics and wildlife habitats would change, said James Brazel, environmental specialist with The RBA Group, CA's engineer for the project.

"On a 204-acre parcel with 36 acres of wetlands, filling 350 square feet of wetland is minimal," he said.

Removal of trees in the wetlands and other areas along the course "could be the death knell to many species," countered Bonnie Johnson, chairwoman of the county's Sierra Club chapter.

Several opponents offered long accounts of the project's history, arguing that the site was not appropriate for an 18-hole course. The site, which had once been the Allview Golf Course, now has housing developments scattered throughout.

The opponents also criticized CA for not sufficiently considering alternatives that would have less environmental impact, including a proposal made by a private developer earlier this year.

"CA didn't look at alternative sites because they didn't want any," charged Thomas D. Scott.

The RBA Group says the proposed site is the only one that CA owns that meets requirements for an 18-hole, high-caliber course.

Dana N. Pescosolido, president of the Forsgate Condominium Association, said he was representing 113 homeowners whose property would border the course.

"Put it in our back yard. We want it there," he said. "We were buying golf course town houses."

He said he has "a lot of faith" in CA's ability to build an environmentally conscious course.

"You go around the town, and you don't see helter-skelter, but well thought out, conservation-minded planning," he said.

The state Department of Natural Resources will keep the record open for written comments until July 1.

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