Sides spar over fairways

At least one more hearing set before city decides on permit

Posted: Friday, December 01, 2000

Duffers and citizens concerned about the effects of duffers on the environment had a go at each other during Thursday night's marathon Juneau Planning Commission hearing.

Totem Creek Inc., the pro-golf-course group hoping to wrest a permit for the course from the commission, argued in its presentation that it has done everything right and therefore deserves the go-ahead.

Many offering testimony during the five-hour hearing begged to differ, claiming the project's 400-acre footprint could step on wildlife, water quality, fish habitat and old-growth trees.

Totem Creek has designed and wants to build a golf course, driving range, clubhouse and maintenance building and a mile-long road to it all at the end of North Douglas Highway.

Totem Creek and city staff disagree on several points, according to city Community Development Director Cheryl Easterwood. Those include Audubon International affiliation, buffer size for anadromous fish streams, the conduct of wildlife studies and protecting trees from the wind.

No decision on the conditional use permit Totem Creek is

applying for will be forthcoming until at least one more Planning Commission hearing, according to Easterwood. That hearing remains to be scheduled.

Totem Creek spokesman Tom Custer argued that Audubon International's Signature Program, which requires that golf course designs abide by strict environmental criteria, was never a part of the discussion with the city.

"This is the first time this has been held up as a standard," he said. Further, "Only 21 courses in the nation have achieved Signature status since 1993," and only three of the 400 golf courses built in the United States in the last year are Signature certified. "The Signature program is not the standard appropriate for us to meet," he said.

A program offering "equivalent" criteria could substitute for Audubon International's, Easterwood said.

Totem Creek's design includes 66-foot buffer zones for streams crossing the course that harbor salt-water fish that migrate to fresh water to spawn, such as cutthroat trout and salmon.

K Koski, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist, objected in his testimony that "the 66-foot zone is just a number pulled out of the air" in a past compromise between lumber and fisheries interests. "The best science calls for minimum 100-foot buffers," he said, and more if wildlife protection is an issue.

For Totem Creek to get the state Department of Fish and Game's imprimatur, it will have to put together an erosion-control plan, a pest-management plan, a stream survey and a wildlife study, said Fish and Game biologist Catherine Pohl. "They have not given us any good wildlife information, as requested three years ago," she said.

Totem Creek has engaged a consultant to conduct the habitat study, Custer said.

Juneau resident Julie Penn objected to construction of the course before a planned North Douglas Highway extension route to West Douglas is chosen.

The extension will have a design speed of 55 mph, a right-of-way width of 200 feet, projected daily traffic counts of 6,700, and a design hourly volume of 820 vehicles. Three alignment options have been offered for the road: One by the state Department of Transportation, one by Goldbelt Juneau's urban Native corporation and one by Totem Creek.

"This (golf) project reduces our options as to where we site that road," Penn said.

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