A proposal to convert a 150-acre park overlooking the Chesapeake Bay into a US Naval Academy golf course is facing growing opposition from environmentalists and Annapolis residents.
Located at the mouth of the Severn River in the state capital of Maryland, the lush natural area is home to some 587 different species and is a favorite spot for hikers who frequent its many trails, kayakers who take to the water from the cliffside area, and nature lovers. Who can watch the local environment from bird watching huts.
Since spring, the Greenbury Point Conservation has been on watch as Annapolis locals, green groups and lawmakers in Congress battle for more information about an earlier under-the-radar proposal to build an 18-hole golf course.
Joel Dunn, president of the environmental group Chesapeake Conservancy, said Greenbury Point is a “public access paradise” that the community “has come to love.”
“The Navy has done an amazing job restoring this piece of property. They have planted thousands of trees, which are starting to grow. They have planted milkweed along every trail, so there are all these monarch butterflies flying at your face.” The idea of turning it into a playground Golf for a very select few people and the exclusion of those thousands of people who use it every week, doesn’t fit in with us as a society.”
The Naval Academy has not released any official information, although the proposed redevelopment plan is from Chet Gladchuck, director of athletics and a member of the Naval Academy Golf Association (NAGA). NAGA is officially behind the proposal, but the Navy will need to approve it.
Gladchuk said he and NAGA should simply have the opportunity to evaluate such a plan.
He wrote to The Hill: “The association maintains a very direct approach by only asking permission to study a vision to enhance opportunities for recreational use and related missions while fully recognizing that every environmental consideration must be addressed responsibly.” “At this time, it is nothing more than a question.”
Common use so far
Residents have long worked with the Annapolis-based Naval Academy and usually enjoy a good relationship with Navy officials. The presence of Marines cruising around Annapolis and the downtown port is a frequent sight.
Naval Support Activity (NSA) Annapolis, which provides services to Navy stations across Maryland, owns 827 acres of land at its North Severn site, including Greenbury Point, the Annapolis National Security Agency offices and the current Naval Academy golf course.
Because Greenbury is Navy-owned, the agency sometimes closes the park when apprentices practice at the site’s shooting range. Residents are used to it but are free to use the park when the Navy isn’t using it.
But advocates say the relationship has deteriorated in recent months, with residents left in the dark with few details about the proposal.
Public meetings have been scheduled and canceled, and official information about the golf course is not available. That alarmed Jesse Elif, executive director of the Severn River Association, who said NAGA might try to avoid public interventions and move forward without it.
“People who are advocating this proposal can’t be so dull that they think they can pounce and do some smooth talk and convince everyone it’s a good idea,” Elif said. “I think they realize that this is an unpopular idea with most people, so they will quietly try to advance their own interests.”
A February letter from Gladchuck to Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro, in which he requested the Secretary’s approval for the development of the golf course and said he had conceptual plans for participation, obtained via FOI requests from local outlets, Including Annapolis Capitol Gazette. That letter sparked outrage in the community and accusations of NAGA and the Naval Academy of concealing development plans.
The latest update came via a letter in June, shared with The Hill, from Vice Admiral Sean Buck, the academy’s supervisor, to Rep. John Sarbanes (D), who expressed concern about the plan.
Buck told Sarbanes that he had received an offer from NAGA to lease land at Greenbury Point and that the Annapolis National Security Agency was currently reviewing the proposal.
According to Buck, the proposal will pass down the chain of command to the Navy’s assistant secretary for energy, facilities, and the environment for a final decision. There is no clear timetable for the operation.
Buck wrote that the review will consider the questions and concerns of Annapolis residents.
“I believe that maintaining the Navy’s mission depends on the responsible use of the land, water, and resources we have entrusted,” Buck wrote. “In order to continue to be good stewards of the environment, if the proposal is approved, the Navy will follow the policies of the National Environmental Policy Act.”
This law, enacted in 1970, requires all federal agencies to assess the environmental impact of proposed decisions and actions before they are taken.
The law extends to the Ministry of Defense, which owns 8.8 million acres across the United States The Pentagon is too I owe it to the Sykes Actwhich requires preserving and rehabilitating the natural resources in military facilities while allowing the necessary military operations.
The 18-hole golf course will almost entirely replace the conservation area, which is located in a critical area around the Chesapeake Bay and consists of wetlands and other important natural resources.
An environmental impact study should be conducted to assess the golf course’s impact on the area. State permits are usually also required for development in the area. While the Navy can go beyond state and local agencies, the federal government is usually obligated to work with local officials.
Dunn, CEO and president of the Chesapeake Conservation Organization, said the Severn River already has an eco-grade D-plus and another 18-hole golf course that will include more material trips in the Chesapeake Bay.
“It’s hard for me to see how an environmental impact study wouldn’t clearly show negative impacts,” he said.
Lawmakers enter the fray
As rumors of a golf course proposal spread through the spring, it came to congressional lawmakers, who have now raised direct and public concerns about the idea.
In a public statement shared with The Hill, Sarbanes, whose area includes Annapolis, said he had “deep reservations about any proposal to convert this woodland into a golf course and limit public access to an important natural recreation area.”
“I will continue to monitor this situation closely, and take every opportunity to inform the Navy of my concerns and those of my constituents and environmental groups in the area,” Sarbanes said.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Mn), chairwoman of the House Defense Subcommittee, wrote in a letter to The Washington Post this month that the Navy and its facilities are “very vulnerable to the effects of sea-level rise and climate. Changing that in the coming years will need billions of dollars of taxpayer money to ensure resilience.”
“The Navy faces enormous challenges that demand its full attention, from the lack of capacity in our shipyards to the grave threats from adversaries in the Pacific and soon the Arctic,” she wrote. “So, reading that the Naval Academy is planning a new golf course at Greenbury Point is absurd. On any priority scale, this should be rated as zero, and not a single dollar should be spent by taxpayers to pay for this bad idea.”
Environmental organizations say lobbying Congress to create a permanent easement is the best way to stop the plan. They also raised concerns for two Maryland senators, Democrats Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin. Hill reached out to senators for comment.
Annapolis citizens and communities say NAGA’s second golf course will likely benefit only an elite few, noting that the 18-hole course currently operated by the Academy could include Annual membership fee of up to $3,500.
A June poll from the Chesapeake Conservancy and Severn River Association found that 67% of Maryland residents oppose a second golf course at Greenbury Point, while 75% of residents of Anne Arundel County, which includes Annapolis, oppose the idea.
Anne Arundel County Executive Director Stuart Bateman wrote a letter to the Annapolis National Security Agency on Wednesday proposing that the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks operate Greenbury Point over a long-term lease.
“The recent proposal by the Naval Academy Sports Association and the Naval Academy Golf Association to develop a new 18-hole golf course at Greenbury Point in Annapolis has alarmed many Anne Arundel County residents who would prefer the historic property to remain a conservation area,” Pittman wrote. “I understand and share their concern, as Greenbury Point is a site beloved by the community for its passive nature, rich history, and wonderful views of the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay.”
The office of the Secretary of the Navy, the Naval Academy and the National Security Agency Annapolis did not respond to The Hill’s requests for comment for this article.
“The misconception is that this concept is only about a golf course.”
When asked about the pressure he was facing, Gladchuck said the golf course could occupy less than 270 acres on the open ground owned by the Annapolis National Security Agency.
The Naval Academy’s athletic director said interested parties should come together to “promote” the idea rather than simply oppose it.
“Ultimately, if the vision becomes a reality, it will likely accommodate thousands more visitors and friends in the community than it does today,” Gladchuck told The Hill. “The misconception is that this concept only pertains to a golf course. There is a much broader opportunity if the parties involved come together and talk about improving the current situation.”
He also said that NAGA has not shied away from public disclosure, insisting it has nothing to tell residents yet because the proposal is simply under review.
The Navy purchased Greenbury Point in 1909 for use as an airstrip, according to Washington Post. The military branch built radio towers after World War I and operated them until 1993, when the technology became obsolete. Most of the towers have fallen, but three remain and can be seen from the River Severn and are often used as a visual landmark.
When the other towers fell, the Navy was looking for ways to use the land. In 1998, the Severn River Society and other advocates successfully lobbied Congress to create a protected area at Greenbury Point with limited public access.
River Society’s Elif said Greenbury Point’s long history shows its importance to local residents and any plan to redevelop the area for a golf course would conflict with the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful plan, which aims to conserve the county’s natural resources.
“This is bad for the Chesapeake Bay, which president after president has declared a national treasure, and it must be stopped,” he said.