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Organic Golf

Typical golf courses are not only heavy users of pesticides, they are also held up as the standard for suburban lawns. The goal of the Organic Golf project is to prove that golf courses can be maintained organically, and thereby demonstrate that all turf can be maintained without chemical pesticides.

The Neighborhood Network Organic Golf Project has aggressively sought to address the potential ground water contamination impacts from the pesticides used on golf courses. After more than ten years of the project and two successful lawsuits to block golf courses, for the first time, the organization came out and publicly supported a particular golf course proposal, called: the Sebonack Golf Club, which will be located near the Peconic Bay in Southampton.

In hearings held by the Southampton Town Board, the Neighborhood Network executive director Neal Lewis testified in favor of the golf course because of their plan to build and maintain the golf course using non-chemical or organic methods. The Sebonack Golf Club -- led by the Pascucci family who should be commended -- was approved by the Town in early 2004, with construction to begin in 2005.

Neighborhood Network Program Director Chris O'Connor, golf legend Jack Nicholas, and Neighborhood Network Executive Director Neal Lewis, at the site of proposed organic Sebonack Golf Club.

"We have always insisted that we are not anti-golf, we are just opposed the the chemicals used to maintain golf turf," said Lewis before the Town Board. "However, this is only the first time that we have actually come out and supported a golf course project." He continued, "this golf course will be the first on Long Island to be 100% pesticide-free, and we intend to hold it out as a example to be followed for all types of lawns."

Golf courses are generally a challenge to maintain. The goal of the Organic Golf Project is to prove that even under such difficult conditions -- turf can be maintained without chemicals.

In a lawsuit brought by the Neighborhood Network along with a local environmental group in the Town of Stony Point, in Rockland County, the appellate division established a precedent requiring a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to evaluate a chemical-free turf maintenance program, or an "organic golf" approach, prior to the construction of a new golf course. Previously (August 2000), the Suffolk County Legislature approved a settlement of a similar lawsuit brought by the Neighborhood Network which allows for two 18-hole golf courses in Yaphank that would be maintained using organic methods.

Read more details about these lawsuits and other efforts of the Neighborhood Network to promote organic golf below.

A Newsday article from 2003 reported on an agreement between a golf course developer and environmental groups including the Neighborhood Network:

Building Plan Out of Rough - Golf deal struck at Friar's Head (Newsday, July 1, 2003)
"After more than three years of fighting - a battle that kept one of Long Island's most impressive golf courses from opening - developers and environmentalists reached a truce over Traditional Links at Friar's Head.
the two sides agreed on things such as limiting the use of pesticides, using organic fertilizers to build up the soil and keeping houses out of the heart of the unspoiled woods."

This article and the editorial "Golfers, Environmentalists Find Course Up to Par" (Newsday, July 7, 2003) highlight the Neighborhood Network's efforts in partnership with the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and the North Fork Environmental Council to work with the developers of the new Traditional Links Golf Course to reach a compromise which resulted in the construction of a golf course with a turf management plan which emphasizes the use of organic methods and materials in favor of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. The editorial board specifically recognized the contributions of the Neighborhood Network, North Fork Environmental Council, and the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, stating that "this outcome at least shows that, if environmentalists and business folks talk, they can reach real solutions."

The Neighborhood Network has been contacted by activist working in other states, from Massachusetts to Hawaii, for information about the Organic Golf project, and ways to eliminate pesticides from golf courses. We are planning to respond to the many inquiries received from off Long Island by developing a national clearinghouse for information related to organic golf.

Lawsuit Settlement Leads to Agreement for
Organic Golf Courses In Suffolk County

A key component of the Neighborhood Network's strategy in promoting organic golf courses has involved legal challenges. One such lawsuit against Suffolk County was successful and resulted in a settlement to build 2 organically maintained golf courses in Yaphank, NY. Working off this victory, the Neighborhood Network has approached other Long Island municipalities with a detailed plan to design an organic golf course in order to avoid a protracted battle.

Lawsuit deal sets stage for 2 organic courses

Newsday; Long Island, N.Y.; Aug 10, 2000; Emi Endo. STAFF WRITER;

With the ambitious goal of setting a new standard for organic premier golf courses, Suffolk lawmakers have approved a project for pesticide-free courses in Yaphank.

Two 18-hole golf courses to be built by private developers on county land will be free of chemical pesticides under a settlement approved by legislators early yesterday morning.

The agreement ends two years of litigation brought by an environmental group over whether the county had adequately considered building organic golf courses. The Long Island Neighborhood Network successfully sued to block the use of pesticides, causing the project to be delayed.

"We're on the cutting edge here-there truly are no organic golf courses" locally, said Neil Lewis, the group's executive director and attorney who brought the lawsuit.

One of the courses, called a "signature golf course" will be top- quality and will charge more for admissions. The idea, according to Assistant County Attorney Robert Garfinkle, is to prove to developers that "they can build and maintain chemical-free golf courses" that are economically viable.

Under the terms of the settlement, which the parties hope a State Supreme Court justice will approve in the coming days, the golf courses on about 285 acres bounded by Horseblock Road, the Long Island Expressway and Yaphank Avenue, will "be constructed and managed organically to the greatest extent feasible." Synthetic chemical pesticides could be used only in an emergency with the approval of the county parks commissioner.

The county will set up an environmental review committee to oversee the pest control operations.

The committee, which will include a representative from the Long Island Neighborhood Network and county departments including health and parks, will meet regularly and hold public hearings.

Suffolk also will retain an environmental consultant with expertise in soil ecology and microbiology who will be paid by the developer. Groundwater monitoring wells will be installed.

The county wants the project to include a driving range, a putting green, clubhouse, pro shop and 300 parking spaces. It also wants the developer to build 10 soccer fields with about 150 parking spaces on about 20 acres nearby.

Garfinkle said the county soon will issue requests for bids to build the Yaphank courses and expects to receive at least several responses. If the bidding process is completed within the next 2 1/2 months, he said, construction could begin by next spring and the courses could open two years after that.

(Copyright Newsday Inc., 2000)

Appeals Court Ruling Sets Precedent for New Golf Courses

Decision Halts Golf Course

In a case brought by the Neighborhood Network on behalf of homeowners and an environmental group in the Town of Stony Point (Rockland County), a major victory was achieved on February 25, 2002, when the New York State Appellate Division, Second Department issued a precedent-setting desicion. The Court ordered the Town of Stony Point to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before work can continue on the Town's proposed municipal golf course. This appeals court victory builds on an earlier victory of the Organic Golf project in Suffolk (see above). This is the first case based on New York's State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) to reach the Appellate level, which dealt with pesticide use on a proposed golf course. The unanimous ruling by the four judge panel is potentially historic, as it sets a precedent for environmental review of new golf courses throughout the down-state region. This decision will be covered in upcoming issues of the Landscaper, and Golf Course News, a national publication for golf course professionals.

Click here to read an article about the ruling in the Journal News.

Click her for the Neighborhood Network's press release on the legal victory.

The decision of the Appellate Division follows.

pdf version of the Appelate Division decision.



_____AD2d_____ Argued - January 31, 2002

GLORIA GOLDSTEIN, JJ. Doc. # 2000-11686

In the Matter of S.P.A.C.E., et al., Appellants,
Steven Hurley, et al., Respondents.


Neal M. Lewis, Massapequa, N.Y., for Appellants.

Frank J. Phillips, Stony Point, N.Y., for Respondents.

In a proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 78 to review a determination of the Town Board of the Town of Stony Point in the form of a negative declaration pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (ECL 8-0101 et seq.), the petitioners appeal, as limited by their brief, from so much of a judgment of the Supreme Court, Rockland County (Meehan, J.), dated November 17, 2000, as denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding.

ORDERED that the judgment is reversed insofar as appealed from, on the law, with costs, the petition is granted, the determination is annulled, and the matter is remitted to the Town of Stony Point Town Board for the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement and such further proceedings consistent with the State Environmental Quality Review Act as it deems appropriate.

This appeal concerns the proposed construction of a municipal golf course in the Town of Stony Point. The site, a 295-acre parcel of land, is comprised of a large expanse of wooded areas. There are Federal wetlands, but no State-regulated wetlands, on the site. The proposed golf course runs over an aquifer, which serves as a drinking-water source for the private wells of several homeowners who live across from the eastern boundary of the proposed site. Among other things, the proposed project entails the removal of 70 acres of forested land.

The Town of Stony Point, as lead agency for the project, performed an environmental assessment of the project, designated as a Type I action, pursuant to SEQRA. In an "Expanded Full Environmental Assessment Form" (emphasis supplied) (hereinafter Expanded Full EAF), which called for the assessment of the impact of the project and the magnitude of the impact on, among other things, the land, air, plants, wildlife, water quantity and quality, and public health, only "small to moderate" impacts were identified. None of the impacts were rated as "potential large". Nonetheless, the Expanded Full EAF discussed various mitigation measures that would be undertaken to minimize the effects of, for example, erosion, increase in stormwater runoff, pesticide contamination, and the elimination of .35 acre of Federal wetlands. Following public hearings and comments, and a review of the Expanded Full EAF, the Town issued a negative declaration, determining that the project would have no significant environmental impact, and therefore, the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (hereinafter EIS) was not required.

The primary purpose of SEQRA is to "inject environmental considerations directly into governmental decision making" (Akpan v Koch, 75 NY2d 561, 569; Matter of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v Board of Estimate, 72 NY2d 674, 679; see, Matter of Omni Partners v County of Nassau, 237 AD2d 440; Matter of West Branch Conservation Assn. v Planning Bd. of Town of Clarkstown, 207 AD2d 837, 838). It "insures that agency decision makers - enlightened by public comment where appropriate - will identify and focus attention on any environmental impact of proposed action, that they will balance those consequences against other relevant social and economic considerations, minimize adverse environmental effects to the maximum extent practicable, and then articulate the basis for their choices" (Matter of Jackson v New York State Urban Dev. Corp., 67 NY2d 400, 414-415; see, Matter of West Branch Conservation Assn. v Planning Bd. of Town of Clarkstown, supra). To this end, SEQRA mandates the preparation of an EIS when a proposed project "may include the potential for at least one significant environmental effect" (Matter of UPROSE v Power Auth. of State of New York, 285 AD2d 603; see, Matter of Silvercup Studios v Power Auth. of State of New York, 285 AD2d 598; 6 NYCRR 617.7[a][1]). The heart of SEQRA is the EIS process (see, Matter of Jackson v New York State Urban Dev. Corp., supra; Matter of West Branch Conservation Assn. v Planning Bd. of Town of Clarkstown, supra). Because the operative word for triggering an EIS is "may", there is a relatively low threshold for the preparation of an EIS (see, Matter of UPROSE v Power Auth. of State of New York, supra; Matter of Omni Partners v County of Nassau, supra). Moreover, SEQRA regulations provide that a Type I action, such as the proposed action here, carries the presumption that it is likely to have a significant adverse effect on the environment, and may require an EIS (see, 6 NYCRR 617.4[a][1]).

In this case, a review of the Expanded Full EAF reveals several areas of possible significant environmental impact in connection with the proposed project. These include a potential significant effect on wetlands, wildlife, water quantity and quality, erosion, flooding, and drainage. In identifying various mitigation measures which would be undertaken to minimize the adverse effects to the environment posed by the project, the Town Board implicitly acknowledged that the effects were significant (see, Matter of West Branch Conservation Assn. v Planning Bd. of Town of Clarkstown, supra, at 840-841). Therefore, a positive declaration should have been issued and an EIS should have been prepared. Even an "Expanded Full EAF" cannot "legitimately serve as a substitute for an EIS and the attendant analysis and public discussion entailed in a proper SEQRA review" (Matter of West Branch Conservation Assn. v Planning Bd. of Town of Clarkstown, supra, at 840). To confirm the negative declaration would permit the circumvention of SEQRA's open and comprehensive review process (see, Matter of Merson v McNally, 90 NY2d 742). Consequently, we conclude that the Town Board's determination was not made in accordance with lawful procedure and was arbitrary, capricious, and irrational (see, Akpan v Koch, supra).


James Edward Pelzer

Appellate Division, 2nd Department

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports. Decided on February 25, 2002

Neighborhood Network
7180 Republic Airport, East Farmingdale, NY 11735 Tel: (631) 963-5454
Advocates for Long Island's Environment