A proposed golf course in Columbia would not severely affect the ecology of the Little Patuxent River and would provide new types of habitat for area wildlife, a representative of the firm that designed the course told the Columbia Council last night.
"Statements that the construction of this course poses a severe ecological threat to the Little Patuxent River simply are not the truth," said James Brazel, supervising environmentalist with The RBA Group, the planning firm hired to design the $5.5 million course.
"If anything, the course will provide a diversity of new habitat for wildlife. We have been very environmentally sensitive in designing the course to ensure minimal impact to wetlands and forests along the river," he said.
Mr. Brazel's hourlong presentation was requested by the council last month after an environmental consultant hired by residents opposed to the golf course issued a report concluding that the project posed a "severe" threat to the health of the Little Patuxent River. The river flows through the 204-acre site for the course in Columbia's Village of New Town.
The council is slated to vote on whether to approve the project at its Dec. 10 meeting. Questions about the project's environmental effects and economic concerns have split the seven-member body over whether the course should be approved.
The consultant hired by opponents, Richard Klein of Community & Environmental Defense Services based in Maryland Line, contended in his report that the golf course could have adverse environmental effects in four areas: loss of forest habitat, wetland destruction, soil loss during construction, and fertilizer and pesticide contamination.
Mr. Brazel countered all of those points in his presentation last night.
"The issues of forest destruction and wetlands impact are certainly emotional ones and we've taken great care to address them," he said.
Mr. Klein contended in his report that the most serious environmental threat posed by the project would be the clearing of trees to make way for several fairways. Forest clearing would result in the loss of important habitats for wildlife and loss of vegetation, which acts as a pollution filter, the consultant said.
But Mr. Brazel responded that, while it was true tree loss would occur to make way for three fairways in particular -- 13th, 14th, and 15th -- there would be no removal of mature trees.
"It's only young trees we're going to remove, " he said.
He said about 1,000 new trees would be added to the site as part of a planting plan.
Mr. Klein had warned that clear cutting trees which are part of a contiguous forest which runs along the Little Patuxent River valley would damage prime wildlife habitat, particularly that of birds which live only in the interiors of forests.
Mr. Brazel argued that the loss of the trees cut down for the three fairways would not result in serious damage to wildlife habitat.
"The loss of the trees won't impede wildlife movement at all. Upper story trees will be taken down, but lower vegetation will remain and that can be beneficial to wildlife. It creates a diversity of habitat that didn't exist before," said Mr. Brazel.
Mr. Klein also warned against disturbing the forest and wetlands on the site because doing so could result in further ecological stress to the Little Patuxent. 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," Mr. Klein stated in his report.
Mr. Brazel agreed that the river is under stress, but said that "strict erosion and sediment control measures would be taken through construction."
He also said that the course was designed to have "minimal impact" on wetlands found on the site.
Total wetlands affected by filling would be less than an acre, said Mr. Brazel, and less than two acres of wetlands would be altered by the cutting of forest cover.
Filling of wetlands would result from construction of a passage tunnel under a neighborhood road, he said.
In his report, Mr. Klein argued that soil at some holes on the course were not well suited to prevent pesticide and turf builder chemicals from leaching into the river.
Mr. Brazel said The RBA Group had addressed that concern by hiring a University of Maryland agronomist to draft a turf management plan to ensure pesticides and other chemicals were not used excessively and didn't leach into ground water or the river.
"Pesticide application will be done only for curative reasons, not preventive," said Mr. Brazel.
The RBA Group also included in the design of the course drainage boxes under each fairway. The boxes would trap water and filter it in a clay and sand mixture before it is allowed to drain, he noted.