The Severn River Association and Chesapeake Conservancy announced the results of a new statewide survey of Maryland residents that reveals overwhelming opposition to a proposal by the Naval Academy Golf Association to the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy to lease the Greenbury Point Conservation Area for the intent of building a second golf course at the site.
Greenbury Point Conservation Area is a Navy property managed by Naval Support Activity Annapolis. The property is entirely within the boundary of the Maryland Critical Area, designated by the State of Maryland as crucial to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. It is one of the last remaining natural areas at the mouth of the Severn River on the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland. The 230-acre conservation area is a popular public destination for nature lovers, birders, runners, bikers, anglers, and dog walkers. The Puritans landed at Greenbury Point in 1649, and historians believe it to be the site where they met the Susquehannock Indians. Today, it is also home to three iconic radio towers once used for submarine communications.
The representative survey of 759 Marylanders finds that two-thirds (67%) of the state’s residents oppose placing a golf course at the conservation area, compared to only 13% who favor it. In Anne Arundel County, where Greenbury Point is known to many residents, 75% oppose creating a golf course at this location. That opposition is heartfelt, with nearly six in ten County residents (58%) saying they strongly oppose it. The poll was conducted May 21 through 27 by the Annapolis-based non-partisan research firm OpinionWorks.
After considering the environmental and public access impacts of the proposed golf course project, statewide opposition grew to 81% of all Marylanders, with only 9% in favor – a resounding verdict.
The poll identifies opposition that is both broad and deep. Republican voters within the poll sample (70% opposed) expressed strikingly similar levels of opposition as Democrats (66%) and Independent voters (78%). Similarly, opposition to the golf course is consistently high regardless of people’s age, race or ethnicity, or gender.
Golfers even oppose this location for a golf course, with only 25% of Marylanders who frequently or occasionally golf saying they favor turning the conservation area at Greenbury Point into a golf course.
The poll found that residents statewide opposed the golf course proposal because of its potential impact on sensitive wetlands and because its location right next to the Chesapeake Bay would cause the fertilizer to wash off and contribute to algae blooms. Three-quarters of respondents said these two factors make them less likely to favor placing a golf course in this location.
“We are at a critical time for the Severn River and the Bay,” said Jesse Iliff, executive director of the Severn River Association. “The decades-long Bay cleanup effort is hanging by a thread right now. So the idea of handing out public forests and wetlands inside the critical area to developers for exclusive golf courses is as antithetical to the spirit of the critical area act and clean water act as I can imagine. As the poll, letters and petition clearly show, Maryland residents, the Anne Arundel and Annapolis community, and our many nonprofit partners are all adamantly opposed to this proposal. To be honest, I haven’t actually met a single person yet who likes this idea.”
“In order to build a second golf course, the Naval Academy Golf Association would need to cut down thousands of trees that were planted as a part of a massive mitigation effort for past environmental impacts and fill in wetlands. This comes as there is a major initiative in the State of Maryland to plant trees and as the Chesapeake Bay Program is struggling to meet its wetlands conservation goals as part of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement. And here we have a federal agency considering a lease on federal land that would lead to the filling of wetlands and removal of trees? This proposal must be stopped in its tracks,” Illiff continued.
The poll was conducted just weeks after trail users learned about the proposal and started the Facebook Group “Save Greenbury Point,” garnering the attention of the public, the media, and nonprofits such as the Severn River Association and Chesapeake Conservancy, which are being supported by the Chesapeake Legal Alliance. Thousands of people have signed a petition opposing the golf course. On May 31, 2022, 25 nonprofit organizations that are members of the Choose Clean Water Coalition wrote to U.S. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro strongly opposing this lease and urging him to reject it.
As another factor helping explain the public’s opposition to the golf course, 76% of respondents said they were less likely to support it knowing that the current public access to the site could be restricted.
“The proposal to destroy the conservation area and replace it with a golf course is shockingly misguided on so many levels, as 81% of respondents agreed after considering the environmental and public access impacts. The negative environmental impacts to wetlands, water quality and wildlife are only equaled by the many issues surrounding the negative impacts to equity and public access. The whole concept runs completely afoul of the Biden Administration’s Executive Order on climate that set a goal to conserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030. It also runs contrary to the Department of Defense’s own commitments to the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Navy’s Low Impact Development policy. Furthermore, the clandestine process used to advance this proposal and the lack of public engagement makes a mockery of our democratic system,” said Joel Dunn, president, and CEO of Chesapeake Conservancy. “If the U.S. Navy approves this proposal, it will detract from their recent strong conservation record and undermine their credibility as a leading partner in the Chesapeake Bay Program.”
“There is an enduring consensus in Maryland that we need to protect the Chesapeake Bay, and those motivations are strong,” said Steve Raabe, OpinionWorks president and the author of the poll. “In this survey, people clearly are saying that Greenbury Point is not the right location for a golf course, given the environmental sensitivity of this property on the shores of the Bay.”