Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"WSU, Pullman citizens spar over golf course"

I just heard the story on "The Morning News on NewsTalk! 1150" about the public forum on the WSU Palouse Ridge Golf Course last night. The article below from today's Lewiston Tribune has another report. I didn't attend the forum, so please comment if you were there.

One sentence in the Tribune article reinforces what I wrote last night: "It appeared WSU representatives did little to allay the fears of people concerned about the course's water use." Of course not. They're not interested in facts. They're not interested in compromise. These people will accept nothing less than no growth of any kind. With the course well over halfway built, what is the point in giving the extremists even more print and airtime? They already have a lawsuit that is going to be heard in November.

The article also proves that the golf course enjoys wide support among the non-university residents of Pullman.
Water-use issues on course are of particular concern

PULLMAN - Washington State University officials got an earful Wednesday night from people both for and against the new golf course they are building.

And although some officials even agreed with some of the criticism leveled their way, they said the 18-hole Palouse Ridge Golf Club will be a boon to both the university and the community when it opens late next summer.

One older man in a standing-room-only audience at Pullman's Neill Public Library called WSU on the carpet for stripping vegetation when course construction began last fall. The man, who didn't give his name, said he witnessed four-foot gullies form when fall rains began.

"That should never have happened," he said.

"You're absolutely correct," said WSU Director of Construction Services Keith Bloom, explaining a contractor was overzealous with some dirt work last year. "That will not happen again."

The Washington State Department of Ecology even got involved with the erosion issue, Bloom pointed out. But one woman in the audience said the department didn't hear about the erosion problems until concerned citizens noticed them. Bloom countered that WSU officials were the first to notify the department.

After the meeting, WSU Director of Real Estate Mel Taylor said the contentious nature of the meeting was expected. WSU has been trying to build a new golf course to replace its old, 9-hole layout for decades, but concerns over water use have derailed the project until now.

Several people at the meeting worried about the projected 60 million gallons of water the course will use each year, and accused WSU of ramming the course down the community's throat. But a roughly equal number of the approximately 50 people gathered for the meeting voiced strong support for the course.

Pullman resident Leo Ressa said the old WSU course - which was bulldozed to make way for the new course - was the cheapest day care he and his wife Mollie ever found for their now-grown sons.

"Our kids grew up on that course out there," Ressa said. And the experience paid dividends, he added. His oldest son is now a club pro and another son is an assistant golf coach at Duke University.

Both Pullman Mayor Glen Johnson and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Fritz Hughes touted the course, saying it would help attract new residents and keep retirees from moving.

"I am not a golfer," Johnson said, "but I see this as a tremendous asset for this community."

A young man in the audience who didn't identify himself was a rare voice from the middle. He called himself both an environmentalist and a golf addict. He said WSU was on the right track environmentally with efficient irrigation plans. But he worried the extreme terrain the course is built on would discourage people from walking the course.

Ray Davies, the senior operations manager from the CourseCo company WSU hired to manage Palouse Ridge, said people would be allowed to walk the course, but carts would be encouraged so the pace of play can be maintained. He said a cart will cost about $14. The full proposed fee structure for the course is available online at http://golf.wsu.edu.

It appeared WSU representatives did little to allay the fears of people concerned about the course's water use. Many shook their heads at answers they received, and one woman worried what would happen if the course exceeded its projected 60 million gallon annual water use.

Davies said if that happened, WSU would curtail golf course water use, even to the point the grounds might be harmed.

But the key issue in which everyone seemed to be interested was WSU's long-delayed plan to build a wastewater treatment plant that would supply up to 1.3 million gallons of irrigation water to the city and university every day.

The $13 million project was first vetoed by former [Democratic - thf] Gov. Gary Locke several years ago, then got bumped down WSU's list of building priorities. But WSU Vice President for Business and Finance Greg Royer said the plant will be one of the school's top priorities in its next biennial budget. Pullman Deputy Director of Public Works Kevin Gardes said the plant would take two to three years to design and build, once money is found to build it.

Pullman groundwater conservation activist Scotty Cornelius, the Palouse Water Conservation Network [i.e. Mark Solomon - thf] and the Palouse Group Sierra Club have appealed additional state water rights awarded to WSU earlier this year. The appeal will be heard in Pullman on Nov. 27, according to a news release issued by Cornelius.


April E. Coggins said...

I listened to Evan Ellis' report on KQQQ. The comment against the golf course was from a Moscow resident! Remind me again why Moscow residents are showing up at our meetings?

Tom Forbes said...

Yes, perhaps David Hall can use his upcoming Town Crier finale to explain to us all how when Moscow is opposing the Hawkins Companies water rights transfers, the aquifers are not connected, but when the WSU golf course is being opposed, suddenly the aquifers are connected. I can't wait to hear the science behind that.

Barenjager said...

The golf course meeting went well last night. The overwhelming majority of the crowd was supportive of WSU and the course.

WSU officials including Greg Royer, Mel Taylor and Keith Bloom were well prepared with a good visual presentation. Everyone in the audience who desired was given a chance to speak and the meeting moved along at a good clip.

Mayor Johnson, council members Bloom and Sorensen, Chamber of Commerce Director Hughes and others did a great job of representing the city and business community's views.

Local businessman Jeff Motley drew the evening's greatest response by far when he declared his support and made the statement (speaking for the community) "We deserve this golf course." Everyone but the hard core opponents applauded.

The opposition consisted of the usual collection of local anti-everything folks and some amusing imports.

April E. Coggins said...

I have heard from more than one person that the crowd was overwhelmingly there to support the golf course. Yet, the newspaper coverage suggests at least a 50/50 split crowd. The Daily News coverage insinuated the anti's to be more and bigger than they actually were, with only a few passing comments from the supporters. Accurate stories should reflect the actual atmosphere, not the reporters bias.

Bruce Heimbigner said...

I'm glad to hear that whoever ran this meeting allowed anonymous comments. State law is clear that you need not identify yourself in a public meeting. In most such meetings in Pullman everyone is coerced into identifing themselves - even requiring that you provide your address!

Tom Forbes said...

The story is up at KLEW TV's site, where you can watch a video of the report. As with the Tribune and Daily News stories, the KLEW report really plays up the opposition, even stating, "But if you were at Neill Public Library in Pullman Wednesday night, the course seemed less like a boasted economic boon, and more like a burden."


And I scanned the audience, and I don't think I saw Mr. Civil Discourse there. I guess he was sipping Mai Tais by the beach in Tahiti.

MarvinK said...

It seems like some of those anti-everything people would be better off coming up with some compromises. One of the biggest trends with new Golf Courses is making them more "green" (well, actually--LESS green if you're talking about the color).

There is a huge new push--special grass, modern techniques for reducing water, pesticide and fertilizer use, etc. This is a trendy new thing, which seems like something that could benefit the University--it seems like agriculture or architecture schools might be able to get a grant and give students some highly-marketable experience.

If I was going to argue against the golf course, I think this type of approach might provide Pullman with a nice golf course, the University another angle to market and differentiate their new course, students some excellent experience and those worried about water something to feel better about. Like the article said, the golf course is coming whether they like it or not.

April E. Coggins said...

Marvink: Please don't let the anti's set the parameters of the argument. WSU may very well have plans for conservation that they haven't publicized. Politically, WSU is better off not promising a rose garden, even though they probably have one planned.

And there is no compromise for most of the anti's. They are agenda driven. If the golf course was a public park dedicated to Caesar Chavez and America's oppression of the Hispanic (or whatever), they would be applauding and any detractors would be labeled as racist. The hard-core anti's perceive golf to be a sport for rich white guys, so therefore it must be sexist and racist. The underlying issue is not water.