Golf Club Hearing Draws Large Crowd For an Evening of Passionate Discussion

By JULIA WELLS

Quoting Thomas Jefferson and Joni Mitchell, conservationists squared off against golf enthusiasts last night as a public hearing wore on over a proposal to build a luxury private golf club in the last unbroken stretch of woodlands in the town of Oak Bluffs.

"I love the Vineyard. It's my favorite place in the world. Golf courses are beautiful and will maintain and keep the integrity of the earth intact. I believe that," declared Eric Williams, a third-generation Oak Bluffs summer resident who now lives here year-round.

"Don't play Russian roulette with an ecosystem and a major part of the aquifer," warned Oak Bluffs resident Paul Strauss.

"I think the applicant has offered us a very comfortable blend of conservation and recreation, and this is how we see the Island - a blend of conservation and recreation," said Alan Schweikert, an Oak Bluffs resident and former selectman.

"It is a balance between conservation and recreation, and when I look at the southern woodlands I see a jewel, right there so near the high school and so near the elderly housing complex. You cannot remake a forest there if the golf course project fails," said Tony Cortese, the former director of the state DEP who now heads a nonprofit educational group called Second Nature.

The comments came during the third public hearing on the Down Island Golf Club plan.

Held in the cafeteria of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, about 100 people attended the hearing - the largest crowd to date. The golf club plan is under review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI).

The developer of the project is Corey Kupersmith, a Connecticut businessman who wants to build an upscale 18-hole Rees Jones-designed golf club on some 273 acres he owns in the southern woodlands. This is Mr. Kupersmith's second golf club plan for the same site; the first plan was rejected by the commission a year and a half ago and is the subject of an appeal in superior court.

Topics for discussion last night included traffic impacts, conservation restrictions on the land, archaeological resources, trails and details about membership in the golf club.

The golf club developers have an agreement with the Martha's Vineyard Arena to use the ice rink property as a service entrance to the golf club. The main entrance to the club will be off Barnes Road.

MVC staff planner David Wessling said that he generally concurs with the traffic planner for the developer, who claims that the golf course will add little in the way of additional traffic to either the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road or Barnes Road. Spokesmen for the developers said that the Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF) has agreed to hold a conservation restriction on most of the property. Ivo Meisner, a board member and attorney for VOLF, testified briefly, saying that the goals of the golf club are consistent with the mission of the open land foundation. The foundation has preserved land through limited housing development projects in a number of locations on the Vineyard over the years.

Commission member Kate Warner questioned the rationale behind the conservation restriction. "Why would you have a conservation restriction on land that you are changing into a manmade place?" Ms. Warner said.

"Because it prevents building houses - ever," replied Jim Ward, a partner with Nutter McLennen & Fish in Boston who is an attorney for the developer.

In one unusual moment, two Chilmark residents who own a small water company on the Vineyard gave a classroom demonstration of how chemical use on the golf course can affect surface water, and how pumping can draw pollutants into the groundwater.

"I am not against golf and I am not an emotionalist, I am a pragmatist. But I have concerns about public health and about the ecology of the region," said Frank Dunkl. The Dunkl family owns the Chilmark Spring Water Company. Frank and Peter Dunkl are also certified water systems operators.

Last night Frank Dunkl testified at some length about the importance of understanding the science of water, and he questioned whether the golf course experts had really done their homework.

"I have seen so many holes in the information that the professionals have printed," Mr. Dunkl said.

He also questioned whether the golf course developers will be able to live up to their promise of an all-organic golf course because of the need to use phosphates to keep the grass healthy. Mr. Dunkl, whose family has also been practicing organic gardening for four decades, said organic phosphates are effective only when they are tilled into the soil.

Then the Dunkl brothers gave a small visual display. Using a glass case containing a core soil sample, Frank Dunkl dropped blue dye into the top of the case. Peter Dunkl pumped water into the case to show how the chemical runoff can cover surface water in a heavy rainstorm. A small "pond" of water in the case turned blue. Then Peter Dunkl pumped the water out and Frank Dunkl explained in how pumping can draw down water and pull in pollutants from surrounding areas. As Peter Dunkl pumped, the blue dye seeped into the subsoil in the demonstration case.

Frank Dunkl said the golf course irrigation system has the capacity to draw pollutants into the groundwater.

Public testimony on the golf course is now nearing an end; a final public hearing will be held on Dec. 20.

The commission is expected to vote on the project sometime in January.