March 1, 2002
Contact: Neal Lewis
Environmentalists Stop Work on Golf Course
Appellate Court Decision Establishes Important Precedent in Favor of Organic Golf
Stopping Golf Course Construction in Stony Point, NY
A four-judge Appellate Division (Second Department) panel sitting in Brooklyn, unanimously reversed a lower court decision and ordered that the Town of Stony Point must comply with SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) by completing a full environmental impact statement before continuing with any work on its proposed ($12 million) municipal golf course.
"This is a potentially historic ruling because it is the first case to reach the appellate level in New York which directly and specifically rules on issue of pesticides use on proposed golf courses." Said Neal Lewis, the L.I. Neighborhood Network executive director and the attorney who brought the case on behalf of the homeowners in Stony Point and the local environmental protection group called Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment (SPACE). The named individuals in the law suit included three (3) homeowners living immediately across the street from the site of the proposed golf course who pump all of their drinking water from shallow (less than 100 feet deep), private wells that draw from an aquifer that runs under the golf course site. "We are glad that our drinking water concerns will finally be taken seriously," said Frank Collyer, one of the homeowners impacted by the golf course proposal.
A fourth individual Petitioner is a golfer (Robert Stata) who is concerned about the impact that pesticides used on golf courses can have on the health of golfers.
The lawsuit is part of the Organic Golf Project initiated by the L. I. Neighborhood Network, and the victory builds on a similar lower court victory in Suffolk County in 1998 (Lewis v. Gaffney). As a result of that earlier victory, the County of Suffolk is proceeding with plans to construct two, 18-hole, organic golf courses in Yaphank. It was because of the important precedent that the Rockland (Stony Point) case could establish that the Long Island-based environmental protection group devoted almost two years to this effort. In addition to Nassau, and Suffolk counties, the decision also applies to Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester, and Rockland County where the case originated.
"It is reassuring to see that New York's environmental laws still mean something," said Neal Lewis, attorney for the Petitioners. Mr. Lewis went on to describe the case in the larger context of increasing efforts to oppose pesticide use on golf courses because of related environmental and health concerns. "We believe any new golf course under consideration, should be designed to utilize the latest techniques and innovations so that the use of toxic pesticides will be completely avoided." Said Lewis, who concluded, "we want the golf industry to get the message that their future lies in Organic Golf, not Toxic Golf."
The sole environmental issue raised on appeal was the concern over the plan to use toxic pesticides at the new golf course. Environmental impacts from the use of pesticides to maintain the golf course include potential contamination of drinking water, and harm to wildlife from pesticides running off to nearby streams and wetlands. The lawsuit did not oppose construction of the golf course, instead opposition was limited to the plan to use chemical pesticides at the golf course. "There was simply no excuse for the Town to short-circuit the planning process, and refuse to do an environmental impact study." Said George Potanovic, President of SPACE, who went on to indicate that environmentalist are not necessarily opposed to a properly designed golf course. "What we need is a thoughtful, well-planned, and environmentally sensitive golf course that protects the Town of Stony Point's natural resources, and the health of nearby homeowners in addition the public in general." He concluded.
"Our first goal is to use legal means to demand that all new golf courses to be designed and maintained organically," Lewis continued, "the second goal is to use public pressure and the political process to urge existing golf courses to convert to organics."
"The position of SPACE that the Town Board has intentionally minimized environmental impacts to the water, land, wildlife, and wildlife habitat by cutting short the environmental review process and by providing incomplete, inaccurate, and inconsistent information to the public has been affirmed by the appeals court," said SPACE board member, and Petitioner in the lawsuit, Frank Collyer.
The lower court decision was issued by Supreme Court Justice Robert R. Meehan, sitting in (town of New City) Rockland County and it will halt all work on an 18-hole golf course construction project proposed for a 295-acre site in Stony Point, New York.
Respondents (Defendants) in the case are Supervisor Steven Hurley, the Town Board, and the Town of Stony Point. They were represented by the Stony Point Town Attorney, Frank J. Phillips.