Maidstone Club Plan in the Rough?

Some say irrigation system needs more study
The potential impact on Hook Pond is at issue in the Maidstone Club’s irrigation system overhaul. Morgan McGivern

    A sea of Nantucket red, frosted plum, and Tiffany blue funneled through the exit Friday after the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals adjourned its hearing on the Maidstone Club’s expanded golf course irrigation system. The club had half a dozen experts and engineers at the hearing with posters and documents detailing how the project will not harm Hook Pond or emit detectable noise from the correspondent pump house, but none of them spoke on Friday.
    “We weren’t aware that you were going to bring experts,” the board’s chairman, Andrew Goldstein, said when the club’s attorney, David Eagan, offered to have them speak. “It’s premature. Does anyone have any questions for the experts?” The other board members shook their heads and murmured in the negative.
    The Maidstone Club has two golf courses — an 18-hole west course and a 9-hole east course — whose tees and greens are watered by an irrigation system installed in 1979. The club would like to also add irrigation to all 27 fairways and is planning a complete overhaul of the existing irrigation system, which means installing new piping, adding a third well to the property, building a pump house, and creating a .65-acre holding pond, hidden from sight by trees and shrubs.
    While the board would not hear from the club’s experts on Friday, they did allow Mr. Eagan to introduce Emil Henry, the president of the Maidstone Club, who said there were misconceptions about the project that the club’s board wanted to address. The 121-year-old private club has 480 members.
    “I’m not a lawyer, or a scientist,” said Mr. Henry. “It is important to me to tell the board exactly why we’re irrigating, although most of it doesn’t relate to underlying legal issues.” He explained to the board that the Maidstone’s golf courses are links courses, which are typically hard and fast, and that their intention is not to create lush, unnatural conditions. He said that almost all courses of similar caliber to those at Maidstone are irrigated.
    He reminded the board that the Maidstone Club is consistently ranked in the 100 best golf courses in the world and that it would be in the club’s best interest, too, to preserve the pond. “The new irrigation system will reduce runoff risk,” Mr. Henry said. “The fertilizer we spread would be absorbed into the ground immediately, rather than run off into Hook Pond as it does during a heavy rain following a dry spell.”
    “We’ve been studying this for five to six years, and our board is satisfied that there will be no impact on the environment,” Mr. Henry said. “As far as the pump house goes, we are committed to ensuring that neighbors will see nothing and hear nothing.”
    After Mr. Henry finished, he gave the lectern to Greg Greenwald, an acoustics expert at SoundSense, who said that in his analysis, the three pumps would be inaudible from more than 100 feet away. (The nearest neighbors are 250 feet away.) Just for good measure, he said, SoundSense incorporated vinyl sound dampeners that would line the interior of the pump house.
    Despite its efforts, many residents are not assuaged by the Maidstone’s assertion that there will be little or no environmental consequence. Kathy Cunningham, executive director of the Village Preservation Society of East Hampton, spoke at both prior meetings on the application and again on Friday. “It takes 20 years to assess the pollutants in the aquifer,” she said, urging the zoning board to take a conservative approach in its decision.
    Linda James, who has lived on Hook Pond for several years, has called the club’s studies “dubious assumptions.” A member of the Maidstone Club, the Hook Pond Association, and conservationist groups, she said that the pond is already impaired, based on her observation of algae blooms, reduced water levels, and the fact that there are only carp and no bass remaining in it.
    Stephen Angel, an attorney for the Schulhof and Olshan families, who live closest to the proposed pumping station and are most worried about noise levels emanating from the pump house, asked on Friday that the board require detailed environmental review of the proposal, noting that it is not the club’s responsibility but the zoning board’s “to control the discourse in this application” — a statement that Mr. Eagan quickly refuted.
    Under state environmental law, the zoning board can mandate that the club prepare a draft environmental impact statement — a detailed analysis of effects on air, land, water, animals, plants, noise, and more. Conversely, if the zoning board is satisfied with the club’s record, it may decide that such detailed review is not required.
    According to Linda Riley, the village attorney, the state has decided against requiring an environmental impact statement. However, she said, “Our village code can be stricter.”
    The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has already granted the Maidstone Club a Long Island well permit for its third well, which will source the new irrigation pond, and a freshwater wetlands permit, needed due to its close proximity to Hook Pond. In June, Evelyn Lipper, M.D., and her attorneys filed a petition with the D.E.C. to suspend both permits, asserting that the club made misstatements in its application to the D.E.C. for a diversion of water permit. That petition was recently denied, but on Friday, Mr. Goldstein and Mr. Eagan debated the point.
    “There is a box on the application that asked whether another government agency has approval authority in this matter,” Mr. Goldstein said. “You did not indicate that this board also has approval authority.” Mr. Eagan, eager to move on, said that the diversion of water “is not clearly a village issue, respectfully.”
    The question of whether the state or the village will lead review of the project remains to be answered. “We’ve sent a letter of coordination to the D.E.C.,” Mr. Goldstein said, referring to a July 31 correspondence requesting lead agency status in this matter. “They have 30 days to respond.” The body that assumes lead agency status would review an environmental impact statement, if one is required.
    “The D.E.C. has only about three staff members assigned to Suffolk County. It’s unlikely they would want lead agency over a project of this magnitude,” Ms. Riley said.
    Regardless of who takes the lead on environmental review, the club still needs land use permits and variances from the village before it can move forward. As Mr. Goldstein said during the second hearing on the project earlier this year, “This will be a lengthy process.”
    The hearing will continue on Sept. 14.