Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Golf course expansion/improvement process update

I attended one of several working group sessions this afternoon to talk about the golf course expansion/improvement project. It was pretty intense, though generally productive. Kudos to Andy Staples and the rest of the project team for putting up with four of these!

Below is my follow up letter to Andy (with a few formatting modifications). After all, I have to keep up my reputation for lengthy written comments.

The county’s project page is here, and they are still accepting comments at


Thanks again for meeting with me and other community members! I felt like my opinions matured as a result, and I remain optimistic that we will be able to come to a solution which is satisfactory to generally all points of view. In particular, I feel like you are a guy we can work with, and I look forward to doing so further.

I won’t be able to make the summary meeting tomorrow, but I hope that my further comments in this e-mail will be of use during that discussion. I am also happy to work further in whatever capacity is useful. In particular, I’m happy to meet with whoever, exchange e-mails, or talk on the phone if these things would be helpful.

This note builds on my earlier comments regarding the project. I’ll focus on three things: mapping the golf course footprint, what a potential deal might look like, and arguments that I still feel haven’t been made adequately.

The golf course footprint

I liked that we tried to map the existing golf course footprint. I felt that we did not succeed, however, due both to time constraints as well as the fact that the boundary turns out to be more complex than we (certainly I) expected.

I spent a little time with Google Earth and sketched out a “footprint” that matches how I feel. It’s pretty rough, but I think the basic idea will come across. The core of this sketch is that I have divided the trees around the golf course into three classes.

(click for bigness)
  • Class A: The red trees are those that are most important. In my opinion it is basically unacceptable to cut any of these down. Any deal which does propose cutting these trees would need to offer very strong justification for each individual tree lost as well as very significant value to forest people elsewhere in the county, to offset for the loss.
  • Class B: The magenta trees are important, but somewhat less so. In my opinion it is unacceptable to cut any of these down absent strong justification for removing each individual tree. A deal which removes these trees would need to offer significant value to forest people elsewhere in the county.
  • Class C: I consider these trees part of the golf course, and thus I feel it is up to the golf course to decide what to do with them. Many are deciduous trees planted (I assume) during the original construction. I still consider these trees quite valuable, and I would hope that the design minimizes their loss, but I don't feel such loss requires offsetting to make an acceptable deal.
Note that the trails are missing from my map. In my opinion, the particular alignment of the trails is much less important than preserving the integrity of the forest that contains them. (A notable part of this is that the forest is sparse enough that many forest corridors have little to give; even removing a few trees can change the corridor from a forest to some trees next to the golf course.) Moving trails around is no big deal; it’s the forest that matters.

Outlines of a potential deal

I still believe that the goal should be zero trees down. To be persuaded otherwise, here is a structure of argument that I might find convincing. The crux is demonstrating clearly that leaving all trees in a given class standing is unworkable. One way to present this argument is to offer options that fall into the following categories:
  1. One or more options which leave all trees in Classes A and B standing.
  2. One or more options which leave all trees in Class A standing.
  3. One or more options which cut in both Classes A and B.
For each option, I would want to see pros and cons. If no options exist in a certain category, I would want to see a clear demonstration of why none were possible. (I realize we talked about how minimizing tree loss was already one of your considerations; the point here is that I believe it is important to share this reasoning.) I would also want to see, for each option, acres of trees in Classes A and B to be removed as well as a count of individual trees to be lost, especially trees which are notable due to size or location.

For offsetting loss of trees, I first mention a couple of things that I find unattractive. Infrastructure such as trailhead facilities or trail surface improvement is of little use to me. Similarly, planting “replacement” vegetation simply takes too long to mature: even fast-growing trees will be only beginning to mature within my lifetime, and mature ponderosas near the golf course are, I am told, 200-300 years old despite their smallish size.

The key thing that a good deal could offer to forest people is broad protection of other forests within the county. In my opinion, there would be two key components to such an offer. First, it would need to be a package deal: no fix golf course now with a promise of figuring out the details of forest protections later. Do it all at the same time. Second, it would need to go significantly beyond existing protections; for example, many formally unprotected forests in this down have de facto protection due simply to public resistance to change.

Arguments which need to be developed further

I’m still not convinced by the safety arguments made thus far. Specifically in response to today’s meeting, the envelope standard seems arbitrary to me. It’s clearly based on a probability contour (i.e., X% of golf balls stay within the envelope), but the value of X is unspecified. How was the contour computed? What is X? How was it chosen? For example, we as a community can’t decide that (for example) 1/2X is an acceptable tradeoff to reach other goals. Is there any way to provide multiple envelopes with different (and specified) values of X?

In terms of liability concerns, couldn’t appropriate signage on the trails mitigate these?

Finally, it is unclear which designs are targeting the goal of a becoming a destination course and which target simply becoming a great community course. I would like this to be explicit for each option. I’ve said this earlier, so I won’t repeat myself too much, but I haven’t seen any coherent argument that it is indeed possible to become a destination course given our isolated location. If the designs continue to target this, I believe it is important to present the data and economic analysis which support the viability of this goal.

Again, thank you for listening. Please let me know if I can clarify anything or be of assistance in any way.

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