Underdog vs. the System

August 10, 1994

Virginia H. Scott is a courageous woman who is standing firm for what she believes. In her fight to block the construction of an 18-hole golf course near her home in the Running Brook section of Columbia, she is the proverbial little person battling City Hall. Unless things change dramatically in her favor, she's going to lose.

And while she deserves a pat on the back for her efforts, what she doesn't deserve is to win.

Ms. Scott's battle has won her a hearing before a state administrative law judge who must decide whether the Columbia Association, in seeking Department of Natural Resources permits for the golf course, failed to complete its application or to properly investigate alternative sites. She emerged from her first hearing this week, exasperated, "like I've been parachuted into a foreign country where I don't know the language and don't know the customs."

Ms. Scott contends that the environmental damage that the golf course construction will cause should have precluded its being developed.

So far, her efforts have been unsuccessful. Construction of the $5.2 million course is well under way.

And as endearing as her underdog battle may seem, it is for good reason that Ms. Scott will probably not prevail. As much as we may like to romanticize a lone crusader, it is usually in the best interest of all that a single individual cannot decide such matters purely by force of personality or persistence. Ms. Scott undoubtedly has her supporters, but they clearly have chosen not to stand by her at this juncture.

The wrangling over a new golf course has a long history in Columbia and was decided last year after months of debate and study. With the intense public scrutiny of the matter, every effort was made to ameliorate the environmental impact; the DNR approved the permits on that basis. Attempts to look at other sites apparently went nowhere.

Most opponents of the golf course have called it a day. Ms. Scott has decided to continue the fight.

It is understandable that she feels overwhelmed by the complicated legalities involved in pursuing the matter. But the fact is that the system is designed in part to make it difficult for someone like Ms. Scott to win. As much as we may sympathize with her position, it shouldn't be any other way.

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