My Turn: Are tourists drawn by Alaska golf courses?

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2002

I am writing to applaud the city and state officials who have been given the thankless task of reviewing the golf course proposal at Peterson Creek. When 200 acres of public land is being examined with the idea of committing it to a private enterprise, there should be extensive public scrutiny.

Though it is clear that there are local golf enthusiasts who will use a golf course, the numbers of attendees at various public meetings has not borne out the support that the proponents claim. It remains to be seen if there will be adequate community support to maintain the course for its stated purpose. Totem Creek Inc.'s estimate of users has seemed optimistically high, and despite claims to the contrary, I would not be surprised to see TCI, hat in hand, asking the city at some future date to finally allow housing development in order to make the project viable, despite current assurances that this is not their intent.

TCI has said that although they anticipate thousands of customers, there will be little impact to the overall amount of traffic on North Douglas. Despite the moss that seems to grow in my lawn, TCI thinks they will have little need for chemicals which will impact streams. Although acres of trees will be cut, habitat will not be destroyed. Despite blowing wind and rain, customers will flock to the course. Although trees left along edges of clearcuts blow down elsewhere, stream buffers on the golf course will magically remain intact. I do not agree.

Peterson Creek is already used by humans and wildlife. While the proposal may create new opportunities, it will eliminate habitat, subsistence and recreation opportunities for others. Imagine the controversy if the city were to propose a 200-acre clearcut to produce timber with the intention of replanting trees. Yet this proposal will not re-establish forest of any condition. As a community we are rapidly developing much of the lower elevation, easily accessible terrain in a piecemeal fashion without considering the overall and long-range effects. These are things that should be weighed carefully.

To characterize TCI as a victim in this process is completely inappropriate. I have personally witnessed TCI's attempts to publicly discredit the city planner and the state habitat biologist while at the same time expressing surprise and concern that TCI's specialist reports should be released for project reviewers to assess. It may be that there was nothing in those reports to hide, but what looks like a duck and acts like a duck... you may draw your own conclusions. As a planning commission member (in a former life), I have listened to proposals for all sorts of projects from housing additions to destination resorts. In my experience, I have never encountered the belligerence, histrionics and stone-walling that were evident at a planning meeting at a well-attended Centennial Hall meeting last year. The proponent expressed shock at the prospect of having to release information, expressed contempt for the review process and seemed appalled at the suggestion that recommendations by their own hired specialists might actually have to be followed. Presumably we have gotten past that point, but not without a number of behind-the-scenes meetings to which the public has not been privy.

When visitors to Alaska come our state, do they wax nostalgic about our golf courses, or are they drawn to Alaska by the natural beauty, the wildlife and fish that provide sustenance, livelihoods and recreation for so many of us? Since the construction of the course seems inevitable, I wish the thank those who, up to this point, have remained thankless, and encourage them to continue to protect resources for all, and not just a wealthy few.

Cindi Lagoudakis is a Juneau forester biologist and outdoor enthusiast, with 20-plus years of experience in the woods with private corporations and public agencies.

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