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Md. county petitions Navy for a park, not a golf course, at disputed site

NSS Annapolis towers, seen from Whitehall Bay in Annapolis. The U.S. Naval Academy is proposing to demolish the area to build a second private golf course. (Eric Lee for The Washington Post)

The head of Anne Arundel’s county government has asked the Navy to consider allowing the county to manage Greenbury Point as a conservation area rather than moving forward with a proposal to build a golf course for the U.S. Naval Academy.

County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), in a letter dated Wednesday, said he shared the concerns expressed by members of the community and environmental organizations over a proposal to build a second course across the Severn River from the academy that would serve midshipmen’s sporting programs, active and retired military personnel, and members of the public.

The idea for a second golf course was floated earlier this year by Chet Gladchuk, the academy’s athletics director. The plan was quickly met with concerted opposition by hikers, birders and others who want to preserve the approximately 280 acres as is.

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Gladchuk, who also heads the Naval Academy Golf Association, asked the Navy to explore the idea of allowing the nonprofit organization to lease the land and develop a second 18-hole golf course to supplement the existing privately funded course where academy varsity, intramural and physical fitness programs golf free. Greens fees and membership dues are sharply discounted for military personnel compared with those charged to members of the public. There is a waiting list to join.

Opponents, including more than two dozen environmental groups, have asked the Navy to kill the idea, saying another golf course would pollute the Chesapeake Bay at a time when efforts to improve the bay’s water quality are falling short. They also argue the proposal would destroy habitat for birds and wildlife and further reduce public access to the water.

“I understand and share their concern, as Greenbury Point is a site that is beloved by the community for its passive nature, rich history and extraordinary views of the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay,” Pittman’s letter says.

His letter proposes that the county lease Greenbury Point and manage its conservation area as parkland by enhancing meadows, removing invasive species, planting native trees and seeding the shoreline with grasses that reduce erosion.

Pittman said the county also would be willing to commit funds to extend the nature trails and create features that would give people more recreational opportunities along the shore, such as designated fishing areas, observation overlooks and a “paddle-in” park. The county also might provide additional parking space and a ranger substation. Pittman’s letter says the fiscal 2023 budget has funds available that would pay for conceptual plans and start the process of inviting public participation in planning.

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“We propose to preserve and enhance its current conservation uses, rather than create new ones,” Pittman says in the letter, which is addressed to Capt. Homer R. Denius, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Annapolis. The command, part of Naval District Washington, supports the academy and several operations on the peninsula, including a nearby rifle and pistol range.

“I applaud Mr. Pittman for his leadership and appreciate the fact that his vision and the interests of [the Naval Academy Golf Association] are very much aligned in identifying and addressing a wide array of environmental matters and concerns in that area,” Gladchuk said Thursday in a statement. “What he suggests would undoubtedly be included in any comprehensive feasibility study before coming to any conclusions or approvals by the Navy.”

Ed Zeigler, spokesman for Naval District Washington, said late Wednesday that Navy officials had not had time to review the letter and would be unable to comment about the county’s proposal.

With the heightened attention to the peninsula, Denius urged visitors to be mindful that, although the installation allows the public into the area, it remains Navy property with the purpose of serving the academy’s military mission, according to a posting Thursday on a Defense Department news service. The site can close at any time, Denius noted, particularly when live-fire training is underway nearby.

This story has been updated with comments from Navy administrators.