After six years of debates over design and environmental impacts, the Juneau Planning Commission late Tuesday unanimously approved a conditional use permit for a West Douglas golf course. Commissioners also rejected a proposal to ban the use of pesticides on the course.
The decision to approve the project was 8-0. The vote against banning pesticides was 7-1.
The 200-acre, 18-hole course is proposed for development by Totem Creek Inc., a nonprofit group.
"It's been a long road and we've got a long ways to go yet," said Totem Creek Board member David George. "Now we have to negotiate with the city about the transfer of land and the financial feasibility of the project. But after tonight I'm going to take a week off and not think about anything."
The golf course proposal will go next to the Juneau Assembly for approval.
About a dozen residents, representatives of the Audubon Society and staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service testified Tuesday night, calling for pesticides to be prohibited on the course.
Residents expressed concerns that pesticides, especially fungicides, will leech into Peterson Creek, which some residents use as a main source of drinking water and for fishing. They said the pesticides will cause genetic damage to the fish and could be harmful to humans.
George, the Totem Creek board member, argued that course superintendents would use pesticides only as a last resort and would use preventive measures to maintain the course. He said if pesticides or fungicides have to be used, their use would be in accordance with Department of Environmental Conservation regulations.
He also said the course management will test the water in the area every month.
The first designs for the controversial course emerged in the early 1980s when local golfers pushed for a course in the area. The idea lay fallow until the early 1990s when the city, which co-owns the West Douglas parcel of land with the for-profit Native-owned Goldbelt Corp., re-zoned the area for a golf course. The city put out a request for proposals and said the course would be part of a larger project to expand West Douglas. Totem Creek, an off-shoot of the Juneau Golf Club, answered the city's request and was selected to develop the land.
The project was ready for the city's conditional use permit process by 1997. The process is the first step to developing the project. A developer cannot get building permits or an estimate of the cost of a project without permit approval. But for two years the project didn't see much movement because the city was trying to decide what route the North Douglas Highway should take if it was extended.
The city ultimately decided to go ahead with the permitting process before making a decision on the highway. In 1999, the process started again, but didn't get far before the project had to field objections from several state agencies.
The city has held about a dozen public meetings on the issue since 1999. The project often drew criticism from state biologists and the public, prompting changes in design and the way the course ultimately would be laid out. It was re-mapped to accommodate 20 streams identified by the Department of Environmental Conservation, and bigger buffer zones were added to streams to protect wildlife and the water. Totem Creek devised a pest-management plan as well as a wildlife and habitat management plan, intended to mitigate environmental contamination. There were so many changes and delays that after two years of analysis by government agencies, information became outdated. Totem Creek had to re-submit the project in winter 2001 and the process began all over again.