New controversy emerges over Bobby Jones golf course redevelopment
By Maria Saporta
The environmental destruction surrounding the redevelopment of the Bobby Jones Golf Course continues.
The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is strongly opposing a plan by the Bobby Jones Golf Foundation to encroach within the stream buffers of Tanyard Creek and Peachtree Creek.
The Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation is asking the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for a variance to disturb land within the state-mandated 25-foot stream buffer. The foundation would severely impact 93,531 square feet and 5,445 linear feet – about a mile – along the creek beds.
The foundation intends to cut down even more trees that border the streams – in addition to the estimated 800 trees it has already razed for the redevelopment of the Bobby Jones Golf Course.
To recap: the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia did a land swap where the state gained ownership of the golf course, and the city got control of a state-owned parking deck needed for the Underground Atlanta redevelopment.
The state, in turn, entered into a lease with the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, which has been redeveloping the golf course. The foundation has argued that since it is now state-owned property, it doesn’t have to comply with city laws, such as the tree ordinance or protecting a 75-foot buffer along the creek beds.
But residents have said the foundation already has begun encroaching on the state-mandated 25-foot buffer, and it is seeking a variance to further disturb the land within those 25 feet.
Jason Ulseth, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, has written a six-page letter strongly urging the Environmental Protection Division to deny the foundation’s application.
Ulseth writes that the applicants have failed to consider ways to avoid or minimize the negative impact along the creek beds.
“In fact, the proposed work razes all existing trees and vegetation, essentially maximizing disturbances within the buffer zone,” Ulseth wrote.
Undisturbed buffers along water ways minimize soil erosion, help prevent flooding and provide a safe zone for plant and animal life.
But the foundation is proposing to clear cut trees and vegetation as well as conduct severe grading within the buffers.
“The applicants’ project does not include restoration or mitigation that adheres to the relevant EPD guidance,” Ulseth wrote. “The Applicants cannot eliminate all trees and vegetation from a buffer for the exclusive purpose of clearing a path for golf ball flight.”
Martin “Marty” Elgison, president of the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, said he is “carefully reviewing and considering Riverkeeper’s comments on the proposed state stream buffer variance” application.
“Our objective is to provide a new home for golf in Georgia, with public facilities worthy of the Bobby Jones name,” Elgison wrote in an email. “We are proud of what we are accomplishing. Among other improvements, our plans will increase the overall current floodwater storage capacity by over 15,000 cubic yards and will remove over four acres of impervious surface from the flood plain.
Elgison went on to say that the foundation believes that “some of the Riverkeeper’s comments are misguided or based on inaccurate assumptions. The State steam buffer variance we seek would authorize activities designed to improve water quality and stream bank stability, in light of tree removal within the buffer that must occur as part of the golf course redesign. In light of Riverkeeper’s comments, we are assessing whether some changes to proposed buffer activities might have additional environmental benefits.”
Elgison, who provided a five-page statement outlining the foundation’s plans, said he and fellow foundation members “are sorry to learn that Riverkeeper does not, at this time, support the issuance of the variance, but we remain committed to working with their organization and the local community. We note that Riverkeeper has visited the site on several occasions at the Foundation’s invitation and that we are meeting with the Riverkeeper this week to discuss their comments.”
When asked how many trees would be removed to implement their plans as outlined in the foundation’s application, Eglison responded: “As to your question, we’d rather wait until our plans are finalized to get you a specific count.”
While the foundation states that the functions of the buffer will not change during and after construction, the Riverkeeper disputes that claim because of the foundation’s proposal to “clear-cut hundreds of trees, remove nearly all existing vegetative cover, severely re-slope the stream bank grades – and replace existing trees and vegetation only with grass.”
Replanting the area with grass “does not provide any of the required mitigation” and it will not replace the functions that the current buffer provides.
The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (CRK) also is concerned that the project will add to storm water and sewage overflows during major rain events. The letter also states that “CRK believes this project will ultimately result in drastically increased erosion rates within the streambanks of Tanyard Creek.”
The most damaging part of the letter said the foundation is misrepresenting the project by calling it the Bobby Jones Golf Course Streambank Stabilization.
“The impacts on Tanyard Creek are clearly mean for improving golf ball passage for the golf course and not to stabilize the stream banks,” Ulseth wrote. “This project proposed to clear the most heavily vegetated and stable streambank sections of Tanyard Creek while ignoring other sections that are currently denuded of vegetation and severely eroded.”
Ulseth closed his letter by saying the proposed project only will worsen the condition of the streams.
“These streams are already impaired and do not support their designated uses for fishing.,” he wrote. “The applicants’ proposal will further jeopardize the health of these creeks and the Chattahoochee River.”
Several neighborhood leaders have wondered how much more damage the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation will do to their community, and they are doing all they can to prevent more destruction from taking place.
There is even a move afoot to challenge the foundation’s stance that it does not have to comply with city ordinances.
“There’s really a sense of frustration among neighborhood residents,” said Katharine Montgomery, co-president of the Collier Hills Civic Association. “With enough money and enough influence, the laws don’t seem to count.”