A dispute over the Bobby Jones Golf Course redesign’s impacts on creeks between course leaders and a major environmental group has led to some trees to be saved and some talk of further compromise.
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, the advocacy organization, claims that the construction is damaging the stream banks and that the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, the group overseeing the reconstruction, wants to build too close to the creeks.
The foundation has applied for a variance that would apply to about a mile of the creeks’ banks and allow construction within a 25-foot stream buffer, including to build a golf cart path and golf tee, according to the application to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
The Peachtree and Tanyard creeks run through the golf course, which is located on the northeastern end of Atlanta Memorial Park. Peachtree Creek runs along the entire northern border of the course, while Tanyard runs through the middle.
The variance application refers to part of the project as a “stream stabilization” project, which is a mischaracterization of the true meaning of the project, the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper claims.
“The impacts on Tanyard Creek are clearly meant to improve golf ball passage for the golf course and not to stabilize the stream banks,” wrote Jason Ulseth, the group’s lead river protection advocate and spokesperson, in comments to the EPD.
The Riverkeeper is a major environmental advocacy group that is known for battles against the city of Atlanta over sewer spills.
Officials with the foundation say they believe their construction project will improve creek bank erosion and have other environmental benefits.
“The Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation is carefully reviewing and considering Riverkeeper’s comments on the proposed state stream buffer variance,” said foundation president Marty Eligson in a written statement. “Our objective is to provide a new home for golf in Georgia, with public facilities worthy of the Bobby Jones name. We are proud of what we are accomplishing.”
The formerly city-owned golf course was transferred to the state in a 2016 land swap and is undergoing an extensive renovation into a reversible nine-hole course. The state leased the course to the Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation, which is overseeing the renovation.
The course has previously received opposition from nearby residents for cutting down most of the course’s trees.
Some tree removal remains to be done, especially around Tanyard Creek. However, the foundation plans to cut down fewer trees along the creek as part of a compromise with the Riverkeeper, said Eligson.
“We’re going to come back to them and talk about a different plan that will involve taking down fewer trees than we initially planned. We’ll still have to take some down,” Elgison said.
The Riverkeeper also objects to the foundation’s plan to only plant non-native grasses along the stream bank. Ulseth said that the stabilization guidelines say to also plant small trees and other vegetation.
“We have a lot of concern that taking a forested, vegetated buffer, completely removing it, and replacing it with only grass, are going to have severe consequences to Tanyard Creek and the downstream waterways,” he said.
Eglison said he couldn’t answer technical questions about the variance and stabilization plan and is relying on the environmental consultants to provide guidance.
Ulseth objected to building the golf cart path near the creek.
“We feel like those structures are not protective of Peachtree Creek and should be located outside of the buffer,” he said.
The Riverkeeper is also concerned the pesticides and fertilizers used to maintain golf courses will seep into the streams. Because of that, “it is imperative that both Tanyard and Peachtree Creeks have the highest functioning buffers possible,” Ulseth said.
The plan to clear the most stable parts of the stream bank is contrary to the mission of stabilizing the banks, Ulseth said. The project wouldn’t improve the areas that are in need of erosion protection, he said.
Elgison said he believes the foundation does have good intentions and the construction will ultimately lead to environmental benefits.
“I think we are doing a lot of great things out there, and they kind of get lost sometimes. When you have 140 acres of disturbed land, it doesn’t look very good. I can understand why people get upset about it. But there are a lot of good things that we are doing that are going to happen,” he said.
The improvements include increasing the floodwater storage capacity and removing over 4 acres of impervious surfaces, Elgison said.
Elgison said in the statement that the foundation is looking into changing the plan and discussing the Riverkeeper’s issues with the variance.
“In light of Riverkeeper’s comments, we are assessing whether some changes to proposed buffer activities might have additional environmental benefits,” he said.
Ulseth said Riverkeeper is open to compromise and working with the foundation to change the plan to be what it believes more environmentally friendly.
“Hopefully, we can come to common ground,” Ulseth said. “There was a golf course there for many decades with all of those trees and buffers in place.”