Too much of a stretch

Published 1:21 pm Sunday, July 15, 2007

By Staff
In broadening the mission of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to pay for an eastern North Carolina golf course, legislators may be headed for a spending sand trap.
North Carolina State University is seeking $5.8 million from the General Assembly for a golf course in Tyrrell County. It’s been billed as “environmentally friendly” and ecologically responsible, and supporters say it would be used as a model for other golf courses in the state that want to go green.
All that wonder notwithstanding, it’s important not to miss one small detail. The devil, after all, is in the details. And this is, after all, a golf course.
The trust fund was created by the General Assembly in 1996. It allocates $100 million a year to be spent on projects throughout the state that protect or improve water quality. This budget year, there are roughly $155 million worth of projects vying for a slice of that pie. The trust fund money usually buys buffers or park acreage or finances projects to reduce stormwater runoff. It doesn’t typically front money for golf courses.
A proposal on the table now could change that, allowing more flexibility when it comes to deciding what the trust fund can be used to pay for. Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, supports both that proposal and the Tyrrell County golf course, according to an account in the Raleigh News &Observer. Basnight’s district includes Tyrrell County — and a drive through there allows motorists to see a sign proclaiming that.
All that may well be true. But one thing is certain: It’s still a nine-hole golf course. It’s a nine-hole golf course that would be next to the Eastern 4-H Environmental Education Conference Center in Columbia, which is often used for meeting space and includes facilities for overnight accommodations.
That facility is touted as “a spectacular facility for team-building, leadership training, recreation, environmental education and fun … all on beautiful Albemarle Sound,” according to its own Web site. And if this proposal goes through, it could be the same spectacular facility — with a golf course to boot.
N.C. State’s proposal calls for acquiring about 376 acres of farmland. That acquisition would be used to restore former wetlands and establish 58 acres of greenways and buffers along waterways to prevent runoff, according to the News &Observer. N.C. State would put conservation restrictions on 90 acres of forested property it owns nearby. With the state paying for the property, the university would raise money from private donors to build the golf course.
The course would “keep the natural grasses in place, not use agricultural chemicals, and (would be) an ecological model,” Marshall Stewart told the News &Observer. Stewart leads the state’s 4-H Youth Development Program, which is part of N.C. State’s Cooperative Extension.
We have no doubt that a golf course in Tyrrell County could benefit both the county and the region, and we would welcome those benefits. What we do have doubts about is the notion that money intended to help us have clean drinking water is instead being used for that golf course.
We pride ourselves in being forward thinkers. But this plan strikes us as a stretch — too much of a stretch.