Maidstone Club Proposed Irrigation System Hearing Brings A Crowd To East Hampton Village ZBA

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The Cedar Street Emergency Services Building parking lot and board room were near to capacity on Friday morning as experts, neighbors and attorneys, and even students from environmental groups within the East Hampton School District, congregated to discuss the Maidstone Club’s controversial proposal to upgrade its irrigation system.

Issues in a draft environmental impact study were picked apart at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting by concerned neighbors and others who have key roles in the country club’s application process.

The Maidstone Club’s plans include “modernizing” and expanding its irrigation system to improve its golf courses. Currently, the parts of the golf course that aren’t irrigated become “rock hard” during the summer, according to one Maidstone Club member in a letter to the board.

If the project is approved, the club’s 27-hole course would see a few changes. A wooded area, almost two acres, would be cleared so that a .42-acre irrigation pond could be put in alongside an 850-square-foot pump house. A test well would be converted to an irrigation well, too.

The Maidstone Club is asking the ZBA for a special use permit, a wetland permit and site plan approval.

The irrigation system’s effect on Hook Pond and the noise the pump house might create for neighbors were among the top concerns at Friday’s meeting.

Tony Minardi, a marine biologist who has taught at Southampton College, Syracuse University and in the East Hampton School District, as well as working as a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said he has been working on a study of the groundwater, with East Hampton students’ help, for more than 35 years. He told the board Hook Pond should be left alone.

“You should not interfere,” he said, explaining the importance of the plant life that surrounds it. “I’m putting my money on nature. I spent 35 years with it, but it’s probably the end for me.”

An East Hampton School student told the board that over the years he has fished in Hook Pond, there has been a decrease in fish and in water and an increase in algae. Another pleaded with the board to make a decision that would keep the pond healthy for their generation.

“I want to make sure the board makes sure that the proposed plan for the irrigation system will not affect Hook Pond for future generations,” said Sage Gibbons, a member of the Environmental Awareness Club at the high school. “We want to make sure that environmental impact is your utmost concern.”

The whole idea that the club would use water from the Hook Pond watershed to irrigate its golf course was a bad one, according to neighbor and Hook Pond Association member Linda James. She said Hook Pond’s water quality has been impaired by an increase in nitrogen and that the effects of the irrigation system would further damage the water body.

Deborah Klughers and Tim Bock, East Hampton Town Trustees, agreed that it would be detrimental and said that the ZBA should give the Trustees a say in the application’s approval since they own the pond.

“Why can one entity take an unequal amount of groundwater for a small amount of people?” Ms. Klughers asked. “If there is ecological succession, there will be no more pond. If it goes away, the public loses the pond. You can’t put back nature.”

Ms. James asked for assurances from the Maidstone Club that the quality would not be reduced and that if any errors were to occur, the club should be legally bound to make amends. A monitoring plan, funded by the Maidstone Club, was another suggestion she had.

Members of the ZBA seemed amenable to making those suggestions into a condition that the Maidstone Club would need to stand by if their application were approved.

David Eagan of Eagan & Matthews, representing the Maidstone Club, said that there will be no adverse environmental implications and that Maidstone’s contribution would be minimal, however.

According to the Maidstone’s own study, conducted by Environmental & Turf Services Inc., the proposed irrigation system would not bring about an increase in nitrogen or phosphorous in the watershed. Waterfowl, decaying vegetation and sewage effluent seem to be the dominant sources of nutrients entering the pond, the study said.

Additionally, excess nitrogen in the groundwater flows toward Hook Pond from East Hampton’s commercial and residential center, according to the study.

Futhermore, John Genovesi, the Maidstone’s golf course superintendent and grounds manager, said that the club does not plan to inject fertilizer into its system and that any water sprayed from the sprinklers would not find its way to the pond because the system will have wind meters that would shut the system down if the wind is too strong.

Quality of life was an issue, too, on Friday.

Neighbors of the golf club showed up to express their dissatisfaction that they didn’t know what was being planned for the Maidstone Club and that they fear they will be kept up at night by the sound the water pump could make.

“This is happening at night—this repetitive noise is right in my backyard,” said Carole Olshan. “We were never told of the possibility of the irrigation system. It was a freak chance that a neighbor held a cocktail party and we were told what was happening in the neighborhood. We came here for a reason—for peace and tranquility, and neighbors that get along with everyone. What am I going to do at 3 in the morning?”

But Sound Sense owner Dr. Bonnie Schnitta, whose company was hired to make sure sound stemming from the pump house is minimal, said she would guarantee the village and residents that the pump would be inaudible from neighboring homes, even with the pump house’s doors open.

Stephen Angel, an attorney with the firm Esseks, Hefter and Angel, representing the Olshans, said that Sound Sense did not base its findings on the right level of ambient noise, but instead recorded audio levels as cars and planes went by.

Dr. Schnitta said they did the best they could, but it is “pure science whether it is audible or not.”

“In this situation, the Maidstone Club is being proactive, making sure it is inaudible,” she said.

Mr. Eagan asked the board to consider ruling that there doesn’t need to be further environmental review and to end the SEQRA process. He said if the site plan is approved and the necessary variances are granted, the country club would begin the project in the fall.

Written public comments will be accepted until January 24.

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