The US Naval Academy’s proposal to build a new golf course has shocked environmentalists

The US Naval Academy’s proposal to build a new golf course has shocked environmentalists

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Opinion

When the U.S. Naval Academy’s athletic director proposed building a new golf course at Greenbury Point for the military academy earlier this year, he said he only wanted to float the idea for further study.

Instead, Chet Gladchuk’s play became a roll call.

Soon after the proposal was announced this spring, hikers, birders and environmentalists began a massive effort to protect the Greenbury Point Conservation Area, which overlooks the Severn River and Chesapeake Sea. The green land can be seen from the city, and the three radio towers — remnants of an array that once connected with Navy submarines under the Atlantic Ocean — have become landmarks for sailors cleaning the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Opponents fear an additional 18-hole golf course along the coast would destroy important wetlands and forest habitat, pollute the bay and cut off public beach access. They also worry that the proposal is beyond the Navy’s approval and that well-connected Navy veterans and wealthy alumni will have a strong influence in deciding whether or not to build it.

“There are many people who love and use this place: old people, children being pulled by small wagons. . . Walking dogs, people training for marathons. . . People are fishing,” said Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy. “This is a very special resource for the community, and we are very grateful that the Navy allows us to use it, visit it and enjoy it. So the threat of removing this private golf course concerns all of us here.

The development of the east coast provoked a war

Twenty-five environmental organizations — including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Severn Riverkeeper and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters — wrote to Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro in May to kill the plan. A poll by the Severn River Association and the Chesapeake Conservation Organization found more than two-thirds opposed the proposal.

A Facebook page called Save Greenbury Point has attracted 2,000 members, and nearly 4,700 people have signed a Change.org petition. A letter was written asking members of the Maryland congressional delegation to intervene.

Although many opponents say they have long respected the Navy’s efforts to balance its mission with protecting the Gulf, they have criticized the idea and what they say is a lack of transparency.

“That’s a developer’s typical MO,” says Jessie Iliff, executive director of the Severn River Association. Hide and spit the ball until you are in the end zone.

Gladchuk, though not surprised by the outcry, said the reaction was premature, describing it as shocking and like a test balloon.

“No bulldozers, no plans, no architectural blueprints — no architects,” Gladchuk said in an interview. “We looked at Greenbury Point and said, ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be fun to study the feasibility of creating a wonderful recreation area on the point?’ We said. “

In the Feb. 15 letter, Gladchuk — president of the Naval Academy Golf Association (NAGA) and the academy’s athletic director — urged Del Toro to support the project. He said a second golf course — which NAGA will develop on property it will lease from the Navy — will fit in well with the newly renovated and redesigned golf course. In the year The $10 million renovation, which began in 2020, also includes plans for a new clubhouse with a dining area.

“I am asking for your support,” Gladchuk said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I look forward to visiting with you to show you our conceptual plans for the course.”

But there’s been no meeting and not even a map of a new golf course yet, Gladchuk said. In his vision, though, about 280 acres of the Greenbury Point Conservation Area and adjacent land would be developed into an 18-hole golf course amid nature trails, a boat launch, bird watching, fitness stations and other features. Areas with contaminated soil from previous marine activity will be cleaned up, and sea walls will be protected from rising sea levels due to climate change.

“It’s overgrown,” Gladchuk says of the area now. “Infested with ticks. Walkways are full of invasive species. It is an undeveloped land.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of golfers use the existing, privately funded course, including midshipmen in varsity, mural and physical education programs. Active military personnel from all branches, including civilian personnel; And veterans and academy graduates, Gladchuk said. Members of the public are welcome to play for a fee or become a member.

Even if the Navy gives the all-clear to proceed on a new course, the process will require several levels of bureaucratic review, environmental and historical studies to comply with federal law, and extensive public input, he said. It will also take into account the binding decades-long agreement reached by the Environmental Protection Agency and state governments to restore the bay.

“It takes years to develop,” Gladchuk said.

He estimated that NAGA would need to raise at least $35 million to make it a reality.

Critics say the Maryland Environmental Protection Agency is protecting the Chesapeake Bay

In the meantime, his proposal is moving up the chain of command, starting with Naval Support Activity Annapolis, a facility that is part of Naval District Washington and serves the Naval Academy, Greenbury Point and nearby naval assets. Ed Zeigler, a spokesman for the Naval District Washington, said nothing has changed since Gladchuk’s letter and referred additional questions to the Navy’s Frequently Asked Questions page.

Jennifer Crews Carey, a retired Annapolis police officer who helped organize protests against the new golf course, said protesters continue to push the Navy to learn more about the proposal.

“I doubt it’s on a napkin,” said Crews-Carey, 56, of Cape St. Clair.

According to the tax code, the Naval Academy Golf Association is a nonprofit social club created to promote and support the playing of golf and to operate the academy’s golf course.

NAGA had more than $2.5 million in revenue in 2018 from greens fees, initiation fees, golf cart rentals and membership fees of more than $1.6 million, according to its most recent public financial disclosures. The accounting estimates the property’s value at approximately $5.8 million.

Gladchuk said there are 510 paying members, split evenly between military and civilian. The initiation fee — $22,500 for a family membership — drops significantly to $5,500 for retired soldiers. Greens fees are similarly discounted.

In addition to the golf course, the naval estate on the River Severn from the academy supports a number of other facilities, including rugby fields and a rifle and pistol range. Most of the 827 acres were purchased by the Navy in 1909 as farmland to support the academy’s dining hall.

In the year In 1918, Greenbury Point became a radio research and transmission station until satellite communications made it obsolete. The radio towers were down, all but three were destroyed.

From the archives: Anne Arundel County clears way for $250 development at David Taylor Research Center.

Since 1999, Greenbury Point has been managed as a conservation area. During a recent visit, Dunn and a team of conservationists pointed out the diversity of wildlife there — even though the conservancy’s designated shooting range is still in use.

Butterflies floated along the stems of milkweed, and indigo bunting piped from the treetops at the edge of a mowed field. Hundreds of creatures, including ospreys, deer, tree frogs, turtles and yes, ticks, make their homes on the site, while nearby waters support oysters and other marine life.

The land was inhabited 10,000 years ago. It was settled by Europeans in 1649, says opposition party organizer Sue Steinbrook, who is researching the history of the area.

“It’s a rare, rare resource for people to use,” said Dunn, who heads the Chesapeake Conservancy. “We all care about the Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay, we want people to invest in its future, and we’ve spent billions of dollars to restore it. But if you don’t see it and don’t enjoy it, you won’t vote for it.

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