The long effort to modernize and expand the Maidstone Club’s irrigation system came a step closer to resolution on Friday when the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals held a hearing to evaluate a draft environmental impact statement submitted by the club.
The board heard from multiple consultants and attorneys, Hook Pond shoreline homeowners, and two town trustees during the two-hour hearing, with much of the discussion focused on the pond’s ecological well-being and the irrigation project’s potential impact.
The Maidstone Club contends that the proposed irrigation system will be more efficient and increase turf density, which in turn would substantially reduce runoff to Hook Pond. The reduced need to apply fungicides and pesticides to the grounds would also mean less of those chemicals entering the pond, according to the club.
The proposed project would overhaul the club’s existing irrigation system and add irrigation to all 27 fairways, 18 on its west golf course and 9 on its east. It calls for the construction of a third well, a pump house, a .42-acre irrigation pond with a capacity of 785,000 gallons of water, and new piping. The project, which is expected to last eight months, requires 14 variances from the board.
The State Department of Environmental Conservation has already granted the private club a permit for the third well, which would fill the irrigation pond, and a freshwater wetlands permit, needed because of the club’s proximity to Hook Pond.
The Maidstone Club, said Frank Newbold, the board’s chairman, “has been remarkably forthcoming in providing as much information as has been requested.” The board has also received many letters from club members in support of the project, he noted. “I want to assure them and all the public that we’re gong to try to pursue this as quickly and as efficiently as we can,” he said, “while answering all the environmental questions that have been raised.”
On Friday, many speakers were skeptical that the proposed irrigation system would have either a beneficial or benign impact on Hook Pond. Tony Minardi, a former biology and biochemistry professor and researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and a teacher in the East Hampton schools, warned the board that the pond’s borders are migrating toward the center and the bottom rising due to organic decomposition, a process called “ecological succession,” which he said was being accelerated by nitrate runoff. Mr. Minardi brought with him members of East Hampton High School’s Environmental Awareness Club, two of whom asked that the board be mindful of the pond’s well-being in their deliberations.
Linda James, a former president of the Hook Pond Associates homeowner’s group, expressed concern about long-term impacts to the pond’s wetlands ecosystem. “The Maidstone Club must be willing to take full stakeholder responsibility for the improvement this proposed project will provide its two golf courses,” she said, by agreeing with the village to pay for “any errors or omissions, whether intentional or not, that result in degradation of the Hook Pond ecosystem or any associated village natural resources.”
Ms. James proposed a bond or other form of covenant that would require “modification or temporary or permanent suspension of the irrigation system” and “funding for future mitigation and restoration efforts required to restore Hook Pond to an agreed-upon healthy condition,” should either be necessary. A monitoring plan, funded by the club over a long enough time to ensure that the irrigation system is sustainable, was essential, she said.
Evelyn Lipper of Jefferys Lane agreed that without accountability and a plan to monitor and report on the impact of the project, “the D.E.I.S. becomes a hollow exercise.”
Her husband, William Speck, also stressed monitoring and follow-up. “I think there is a good possibility that this will improve the quality of water in Hook Pond, but we won’t know that unless we monitor,” he said.
Ms. Lipper also worried about truck traffic, as regards the volume of dirt to be moved offsite for the pond’s construction. In addition, she said, the environmental impact statement “does not address the issue of mud being tracked offsite during wet periods.” Dirt deposited on village roads could be washed into Hook Pond, she said, to its detriment. She asked that measures be imposed to ensure minimal deposit of dirt on the roads.
Stephen Angel, an attorney representing Carole and Mort Olshan, was worried about potential noise from the pump house, which would be situated near his clients’ property. The D.E.I.S. does not adequately analyze this component of the irrigation system, he said. The Olshans “were hoping that the club would consider relocating the pump house to a different portion of the property so they wouldn’t bear the risk of that potential large noise,” said the attorney. “They have not been accommodated.”
Mr. Angel suggested that pumping equipment be contained in a subterranean vault or a raised soil mound, but also insisted that “the final [impact statement] has to discuss alternate locations.” A professional engineer, he said, had concluded that the pump house could located anywhere on the club’s 207 acres.
Bonnie Schnitta of the acoustical consulting and engineering firm SoundSense then told the board that her firm had performed extensive tests in the area on behalf of the Maidstone Club, reaching a very different conclusion. Noise generated by pumps would be inaudible, she asserted. “As long as we do the engineering, which we did; as long as we supply the materials, which we will, and we do the installation, we can give that level of a guarantee” that the pumps would be inaudible.
Ms. Olshan was unmoved. “This repetitive noise . . . is right in my backyard,” she told the board. “We were never told about the possibility of this irrigation system. . . . Yes, they’ll make a guarantee, and what am I going to do at 3 o’clock in the morning? Who am I going to call?”
Further, said her husband, “our neighbors were not notified on Further Lane. . . . This industrial installation is going to affect their lives. . . . I’m going to insist and continue to fight to eliminate the pumping system in my backyard.”
Deborah Klughers, an East Hampton Town trustee, asked why “one entity gets to take an unequal amount of groundwater for such a small group of people. This water is not just for today, or for the Maidstone Club to have a green turf for their members, but for the future, our children.”
Timothy Bock, also a trustee, told the board that “not only your approval but the trustee approval” is required “before this goes through. I don’t see how it could not be. It’s going to affect the public so much, for just the elite and playing golf. That doesn’t seem enough reason to do this.” He and Ms. Klughers, as well as Ms. James, continued their discussion when the trustees met on Tuesday.
David Eagan, an attorney representing the club, sought to refute fear of adverse impacts on Hook Pond. “The contribution of Maidstone is so minimal. The runoff issue will be slightly more beneficial because of this project,” he said.
Mr. Eagan threw cold water on the idea of post-installation monitoring. “Absent negative environmental impacts established in this process,” a conclusion he said the D.E.I.S. had reached, “as a matter of law, this board and other municipal boards do not have the authority to condition approvals in that situation.”
Nonetheless, he said, the club is not unconcerned about Hook Pond. “The takeaway from this project really is the baseline science,” which, he said, “has established that the nitrate issues and problems facing Hook Pond aren’t related to Maidstone’s irrigation activities or even their fertilization practices. . . . It’s animal waste and human septic.”
Mr. Newbold asked if the club would be amenable to modifying its plans for the pump house based on the concerns Mr. Angel raised. “Mr. Angel’s claim . . . is just a claim,” Mr. Eagan said.
The hearing was then closed, with the record remaining open for 10 days for submission of written comments.