An attorney for the Sebonack Golf Club this week asked members of the Southampton Town Planning Board to consider amending the covenants placed on the golf course property when it was first being developed a decade ago.
The proposed amendment would allow the course to halve the number of detailed—and expensive—rounds of chemical testing conducted each year on water samples drawn from a series of wells on the property, from four to two. The covenants being proposed by the course managers, attorney Wayne Bruyn said, would also likely include some more minor adjustments in the monitoring protocols, such as abandoning at least one of the test wells that has proven unuseful and possibly installing a new one elsewhere on the golf course.
Mr. Bruyn asked that the Planning Board schedule a required public hearing on amending the covenants sometime in the next month.
Last summer, course managers and the two hydrologists hired by the town to oversee the testing and tracking of changes in the water table beneath the golf course land, presented their initial case for some form of paring down of water testing and changes to the monitoring system to the Town Board. Mr. Bruyn told the Planning Board this week that he expected the board to take up the proposed new protocols as early as next month.
When it was approved in 2004, the privately owned course designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak was billed as what would be the world’s first organic golf course, with great lengths taken to ensure that no chemical pesticides were used and that groundwater was not impacted by the course’s construction.
Putting greens, which require more fertilizer than other portions of the course to maintain their felt-like smoothness, were lined with thick plastic layers that prevent water seeping into the ground beneath them from reaching groundwater before being directed into one of the course’s irrigation ponds and recycled for the next round of watering.
As a requirement of the approvals to build the course on land zoned for residential development, the course managers were required to implement the intensive groundwater monitoring system on the golf course property and at its fringes.
In the eight years since the program started, some of the test wells have revealed increases in nitrogen levels in groundwater beneath the course, requiring a mandated change in the amount of fertilizers used in at least one instance.
But for the most part, town consultants have found, the impacts of the course have been consistent and relatively minor. Mr. Bruyn said that the steadiness of the readings from most of the monitoring stations can allow for a lengthening of time between testing without concern of sudden, harmful pollution influxes.
Of the six test wells sunk into water tables below the course, according to Thomas Cambareri, one of the consultants hired by the town to oversee the monitoring protocols, at least one and possibly two have been measuring very high nitrogen levels related not to the golf course but to septic systems from a former house on the property that served as the main clubhouse when the Sebonack property, known as Bayberry Land at the time, was used as a retreat by an electrical workers union. Mr. Cambareri suggested, in a discussion with the Town Board last June, that one or both could be removed from the regular monitoring protocol and simply tested once a year for the foreseeable future until they began showing results more in line with the impacts of the golf course use.
The Planning Board’s amendment to the covenants on the property that address the water quality monitoring would be needed in conjunction with Town Board approval of any changes to the management program.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst acknowledged that the course appears to be on a steady path of good water management that may warrant allowing the expensive testing to be trimmed back.
“We have held them to a very tight protocol for many years and the reports we’ve gotten back were very consistent,” she said. “They asked if they could just reduce that testing to twice a year and I think everybody thought that was reasonable. The changes and fluctuations have been minor enough that even if there was some real change in what’s going on up there, three months was not enough time for it to really show up.”
Mr. Bruyn said that going forward the groundwater management plan was to be updated every five years so, he proposed, the Planning Board may want to amend the covenant with wording that would make it possible for the town to approve new management plans without having to amend the covenant specifically each time.