Whether it's Beech Tree in Upper Marlboro, or the beaches of Ireland, golf course developer Gerald Barton is feeling heat from critics who say his projects will hurt, not enhance, the environment.
In Prince George's County, the opposition centers on the stripeback darter, an endangered fish first found in 1995 at a point where the East Branch meets the Collington Branch, smack in the middle of the 1,200-acre tract known as Beech Tree.
In Ireland, Friends of the Irish Environment have mobilized on behalf of the narrow-mouth whorl snail, a critter less than 2 millimeters long that lives in coastal dunes.
On both sides of the Atlantic, Barton, who has hired Australian golf pro Greg Norman to design both courses, says that he and Norman are the ones who are more sensitive to the environment. He also says he has widespread local support in both venues.
His planned Presidential Golf Course in Upper Marlboro is to encompass 238 acres and would require damming East Branch to create a 33-acre lake. The lake, along with a well, would be used to irrigate the course and adjoining development.
The 377-acre project in Doonbeg, Ireland, consists of three golf courses with sand-dune links and spectacular ocean views, a hotel, a resort and chalets.
The Doonbeg project is backed by a $4 million tourism loan from the European Union to the Irish subsidiary of Landmark, which is headed by Northern Ireland peace-broker and former U.S. Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine).
In a letter this year to Irish officials, Mitchell said that Landmark "is noted for its civic spirit in the United States, particularly in the area of the environment." He said the project would allow Doonbeg to "share more fully in Ireland's prosperity," which he said is essential to maintaining peace in the country.
Beech Tree opponents got wind of the letter and wrote to Mitchell that throughout the Prince George's process, "Landmark has displayed little regard for environmental preservation, as it has in Doonbeg." In cyber-contact with Irish environmentalists, Beech Tree opponents also sent their own rebuttal to the Irish Times.
That didn't seem to faze Barton. "It really shows what a small world we live in," he said. "It's amazing, but I guess it's a good democratic process. What I learned is you don't have property rights, you have property privileges. We're doing a wonderful job in both places."
CAPTION: Opposition to the Beech Tree project in Prince George's centers on the stripeback darter, an endangered fish. In Ireland, it's the narrow-mouth whorl snail.