Columbia golf course would endanger Little Patuxent, consultant finds

An environmental consultant's report says a proposed $5.5 million 18-hole golf course in Columbia poses a severe ecological threat to the Little Patuxent River.

Opponents of the planned Fairway Hills course, who hired the consultant, Community & Environmental Defense Services, plan to present the report at tonight's Columbia Council meeting.


The company, based in Maryland Line, was hired by residents of Running Brook who oppose the the Columbia Association-sponsored project.

The golf course, which would be built on open land between Routes 29 and 108, could have adverse environmental effects in four areas: loss of forest habitat, wetland destruction, soil loss during construction, and fertilizer and pesticide contamination, according to the report.


The environmental threat could be minimized, the report concludes, if the course were restricted to land east of the Little Patuxent, a move that might require scaling the course down to a nine-hole design since a significant area for the project is west and south of the river. The river runs near the center of the proposed site in Columbia's Village of Town Center.

The most serious environmental threat posed by the project would be the clearing of trees to make way for several fairways, the report states. Forest clearing would result in the loss of important habitats for wildlife and loss of vegetation, which acts as a pollution filter.

Many trees along the river would have to be removed to build the course's fifth, 12th and 18th holes.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the National Institute for Urban Wildlife have recommended against disturbance of the forest along the Little Patuxent and its tributaries, the report notes.

"Both agencies identified these bottom-land forests as a vital corridor for wildlife movements, habitat for important species, and as being essential to the preservation of river water quality," the report states.

The report takes a skeptical view of arguments that environmental effects would be insignificant because construction of the course would result in only a small amount of forest clearing.

The report says "extensive portions of bottom-land forest have already been lost. . . . Although each small loss was considered insignificant, the cumulative effect has been substantial."

Readings of the river's water quality, conducted by the Maryland Department of the Environment, show the river is under stress from past and present pollution.


"These waterways have no capacity to assimilate further environmental damage," the report warns.

The Community & Environmental Defense Services report also cautions that because the river is already under significant stress from erosion and other pollution, soil erosion during construction must be kept to a minimum.

That would be best accomplished, the report states, by preserving the existing forest and keeping construction away from bottom land.

Also of concern, says the report, is the potential loss of 2 acres of forest in wetland areas. While shrubs and other low vegetation would remain, the loss of forest canopy would result in diminished habitat for wildlife.

According to Richard Klein, who wrote the report, an Oct. 4 inspection found two areas of undocumented wetlands which could be affected.

The state, which is reviewing plans for the project, has requested an updated wetlands report from the Columbia Association.


While the report concludes that some soils on the property are well suited for preventing leaching of fertilizers and pesticides into the river, the soil at some holes wouldn't prevent chemical leaching. For this reason, the report recommends that no holes be constructed within 75 feet of the river or where the water table may rise within 4 feet of the surface.

The consultant says that the 15th fairway would require a high rate of herbicide and fungicide use and urges the Columbia Association to determine which nearby residents are sensitive to such chemicals. Homes along that fairway would experience the most chemical spray drift during application, the consultant concluded.

As for residents worried about whether their home's location makes it a likely target for errant golf balls, the report concludes at least four homeowners have cause for concern. Two homes on Whetstone Road and two on Ten Mills Road would be the most likely to be struck by balls, the report concludes.

Whether Columbia's governing council should include the project in a long-range capital spending plan is expected to be hotly debated when the council meets next Thursday to discuss the plan.