My Turn: Golf course - another final review

Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The golf course project proposed by Totem Creek has been mentioned frequently of late in relation to controversies surrounding the state permitting process. We have had our share of difficulties, but rather than revisit the issues now behind us, we wish to update the community on the progress made with our project, and to describe where we are in our efforts to receive the required permits.

Last May, we concluded a strenuous nine-month interagency review, sponsored by the City and Borough of Juneau, during which we made numerous changes to the project at the request of state agencies, principally the Division of Habitat and Restoration. At the conclusion of these meetings, we were informed our project would have to be resubmitted to the Division of Governmental Coordination (DGC) for another review by state and federal agencies to determine if it remained consistent with the Alaska Coastal Zone Program (our first "final consistency determination" was received on Jan. 23, 1998).

Since May 2002 we have met, teleconferenced and exchanged e-mails with every relevant agency - state, federal and local - as well as with organizations or individuals who have expressed an interest in this project. By doing so, we resolved misunderstands regarding the redesign, and engaged in largely productive dialog with some of the most persistent critics of the project. When practical, we further refined elements of the new design to address various concerns. We then revised previously issued permits to reflect recent changes to the course layout.

Is the redesigned golf course a better project than that which was deemed consistent with the Alaska Coastal Zone Program five years ago?

On Sept. 11, 2002, Totem Creek Inc. (TCI), CBJ, and Habitat signed an agreement by which the three parties agreed that the redesign "will improve the overall golf course project and result in a composite of environmental protections which are more comprehensive, sustainable and environmentally sound than that previously submitted to DGC."

In a separate letter addressed to CBJ, dated Jan. 16, 2003, the Division of Habitat, commenting on revisions to our Corps of Engineers permit that will reduce our wetlands fill requirements from 1.4 acres to approximately one acre, stated: "These changes are all improvements to the design that decrease potential impacts to fish."

In a letter to TCI from the Department of Environmental Conservation, dated Jan. 27, 2003, we were praised for the "large effort to redesign the golf course," and were assured that the regime of streamside protections outlined in the agreement of 9/11/02 were well within DEC's regulatory requirements.

According to our U.S. Golf Association advisor, David Wienecke, who is an agronomist and also a steward of the Audubon International program, our project, as presently conceived, will rank as one the most environmentally advanced golf courses in the United States.

Considering that the changes made to the golf course project were entirely benign, as evidenced by the comments noted above, and that every agency that has a legal obligation to comment has had literally dozens of opportunities to do so, the directors of Totem Creek have found it difficult to accept the need for yet another review.

With great reluctance, and following several months of hard work, we resubmitted our project, last week, to the Division of Governmental Coordination (DGC), which will supervise a 50-day review process.

Before the review can progress beyond day 25, the City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ) must issue a long considered conditional use permit (CUP). Upon receipt of the CUP, the "clock" restarts, and 25 days later we cross the imaginary finish line, completing the quest for state, federal and local permits we began in 1995.

Since it became apparent last May that we would have to once again submit our project to DGC, our volunteers and our inadequately paid professionals have collectively put in many hundreds of hours negotiating with agencies, responding to questions, revising plans, redesigning the course layout, and preparing new permit applications.

I wish to thank the people who have so generously given of their time: TCI directors David George and Tom Koester; our "map guy," Gary Murdoch; our environmental consultant, Art Dunn; our golf course architect/designer, Bill Robinson; our USGA advisor, David Wienecke; and our counsel, Tom Findley.

I wish to reassure the people of Juneau we are doing our utmost to create a public recreation opportunity, accessible and affordable to all, that will be the pride of this community.

Peter Metcalfe of Juneau is president, Totem Creek Inc.

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