Golf course plan takes a twist

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, September 12, 2007

By Staff
Golf courses have a place, but buying the land for one with state money under the guise of improving water quality isn’t the way to get one built.
That’s what North Carolina State University proposed to do until calmer heads prevailed.
The university initially sought $5.8 million to buy about 350 acres and build an “environmentally friendly” nine-hole golf course in Tyrrell County. Project supporters said it would enhance the 4-H conference center there as a convention site. The county doesn’t currently have a golf course, and one also could attract golfers from nearby Dare County, which grew by 13 percent between 2000 and 2006.
From the start, the plan had detractors.
The Clean Water Management Trust Fund hasn’t always had a lot of money. The first year, it was $47 million. The next year, $49 million. Only in the past two years has the Legislature funded it at the $100 million-a-year level. And university leaders wanted to dip into that fund to pay for the course.
Tyrrell County only has 4,187 residents. A golf course in the area clearly would raise some property values, but it would do it on the backs of the taxpayers.
N.C. State is already proposing to build an “environmentally” friendly course at its Centennial Campus. That one is 18-holes with access to Interstate 40. In July a ceremony was held to mark the start of construction. It is expected to be complete by the spring of 2009 and is being funded from a $3 million grant from the family of Lonnie Poole and other private donations.
On Monday, the Tyrrell County plan was scaled back, and NCSU received a grant of $1.7 million that would allow the purchase of 288 acres. NCSU leaders say they will restore the land and protect it from development. They’ve backed off the golf course idea, at least for now.
The Clean Water Management Trust Fund was formed to protect and enhance water quality. Since 1996, it’s spent $434 million on projects, many of them quite small compared to the NCSU grant. For example, Beaufort County got $313,000 for land acquisition on Smith Creek and $107,000 for a septic tank project at Terra Ceia School. There have been larger grants, like the $4 million to build the wetlands project near the N.C. Estuarium. Clearly, that was money well spent.
But hold the golf course.
Richard Rogers, the trust fund’s executive director, said trustees were uncomfortable backing a golf course, which was inconsistent with the group’s mission.
University officials will use some of the farmland for walking and biking trails and possibly playing fields. They also want to make a planned stream restoration project on site an educational experience for visitors to the 4-H center. It still sounds like a lot of money for a small area, but state leaders must believe it’s worth it.
We would only hope that’s the case.