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Proposed Annapolis golf course inside environmental conservation area draws critics

Greenbury Point, at the mouth of the Severn River, affords views of the U.S. Naval Academy from one angle and the Chesapeake Bay from another.

It’s where the Puritans landed in 1649 and at one time it was home to an array of radio towers used to communicate with the Navy’s submarine fleet in the Atlantic. Three of them remain, visible for miles.

But the site is also entirely within Maryland’s Critical Area, which means the state considers it crucial to the health of the Bay.

Which means it’s a bad location for a golf course as proposed by the Naval Academy, at least that’s what environmentalists argue.

Jessy Oberright, a naturalist who two years ago started the Greenbury Point Biodiversity Project, says they have documented about 570 distinct species of plant, animal and other life, such as fungus, on the point, including 11 rare, threatened or endangered species.

“We know that we have an extensive, probably the most extensive tract of undisturbed milkweed and the Annapolis area, which is essential for the recently declared endangered monarch butterfly,” Oberright said.

Included in all that growth are stands of black locust trees, red maple and tulip poplars. Oberright said she even recorded the mating calls of northern bob white, a bird species thought to no longer exist on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

That makes Jennifer Crews-Carey, a retired Annapolis police officer who started a Save Greenbury Point Facebook page in May, wonder why anyone would want to rip it all up for a golf course.

“The idea of this whole thing is sad that someone would even think that this was a good idea to even put a golf course here and what it would destroy,” she said. “The people that want to do this, I'm convinced they've never been out here to see this and see how pretty it is and everything that it has to offer the benefits. To me the benefits far outweigh a golf course.”

The idea came from Chet Gladchuk, who wears three hats at the Naval Academy, athletic director, president of the Naval Academy Athletic Association and of the Naval Academy Golf Association. He skipped over several layers of Navy review, writing directly to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro to propose the course on the 280-acre parcel.

In the letter, shared with WYPR by the Chesapeake Conservancy, he said the course would fit in well with the existing course that the Golf Association just spent an estimated $10 million to redevelop. “I look forward to visiting with you to show you our conceptual plans for the course,” Gladchuk wrote.

When word of the proposal got out, it stirred a storm of criticism from environmental groups determined to preserve the conservation area. Twenty-five environmental organizations signed on to a letter asking the Navy official to kill the plan. Crews-Carey's Facebook page gained more than 2,000 members within a few months.

Jesse Iliff, president of the Severn River Association, one of the organizations that signed the letter, said the proposal “must be stopped in its tracks.”

Joel Dunn, whose Chesapeake Conservancy also signed on, called it “shockingly misguided on so many levels.”

Gladchuk, who has called the golf course “one element” of a larger proposal, but has not released any detailed plans, declined an interview request. He said through a Naval Academy spokesman he has said all he has to say about the proposal.

Iliff called that a typical developer MO.

“It's the Wizard of Oz thing,” he said. “Like, pay no attention to this guy back here who's actually running the show. What you should look at is what we're putting in front of you like this. And then down the road, these things wind up getting built anyway.”

Dunn says the Navy has been a good partner in environmental efforts thus far.

“So, the idea of converting this conservation area, to a golf course essentially for military personnel and private individuals who can afford to become members, I think runs counter to the direction the Navy has been headed in,” he said.

A golf course on that peninsula would set back Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts, added Josh Kurtz, Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which also signed on to the letter.

The forest there acts as a sponge to sequester carbon and soak up nutrients that otherwise degrade water quality, he explains. A golf course, loaded with fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides is the opposite, pushing water off the land as fast as possible.

“So we're basically replacing what is a sponge, which is that forest and that wetlands, with a new land use type that is designed to just push all that water straight into the bay without any, you know, opportunity to infiltrate and treat it.,” he said. “So it's kind of a double whammy there.”

The Navy says the proposal is still under review and published a frequently asked questions webpage. But it won’t release documents on the proposal, arguing they “are considered internal and deliberative.”

Joel McCord is a trumpet player who learned early in life that that’s no way to make a living.
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