Munson Township Trustees Approve Revised Fowlers Grant Application at Last Minute Meeting

Northeast Ohio Golf

In what can only be called a “surprise meeting,” last night the trustees from Munson Township approved significant changes to their Ohio EPA clean water grant application, now hoping to make a partial purchase of Fowlers Mill Golf Course with EPA money.

But this new proposal still fills the pockets of Todd Peterson and his Fowlers Mill ownership group, paying them more money for some small slices of the golf course than what the group paid for the entire property just last year. And if the Ohio EPA grant is secured, Munson Township would close the best holes on the nationally-recognized Pete Dye-designed golf course, while the ownership group uses some of the lesser holes across the road on the Maple 9 to keep open a newly-configured 18-hole facility.

According to the News Herald, township trustees approved submitting a compromise deal to the Ohio EPA (PDF of that proposal below) that would keep the Fowler’s Mill Golf Course in business, but would close all of the holes in contact with the Chagrin River and put that land under the direction of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Last night’s meeting in which this vote was held occurred with little public notice, and the revised proposal was approved 2 to 1; trustee Andy Bushman was the lone ‘no’ this time, in a reversal from his previous vote.

In a closed-door meeting two weeks ago in state senator Tim Grindell’s office, Grindell and representatives from Munson Township, the golf course ownership group, the Ohio EPA and the Northeast Ohio sewer district came up with the revised plan that was voted upon by the township trustees last night.

[PDF: Revised/approved Fowlers Mill Stream and Riparian Restoration Plan]

This revised plan was created because of the clear public outrage generated by the original plan, which was to significantly overpay for the property and then completely close the golf course, all without any clear, documented proof that doing so would directly improve local water quality in the Chagrin River in any way.

Under the newly approved proposal that Munson Township trustees voted to submit, the Ohio EPA would pay the current ownership group $3.5 million for a “permanent conservation easement” of 150 feet on each side of the 1.3-mile stretch of river. Peterson’s group would continue to own and operate the golf course property, but would “restore the river corridor to its natural state” (i.e. remove piled stone, concrete, and railroad ties within the easement; plant new vegetation to hold up the riverbanks; etc.).

But this restoration of the river corridor would come at a significant detriment to the challenge and beauty of the nationally-acclaimed Pete Dye-designed golf course, as the new plan would take away the best golf holes on the property (all those with the river in play) and close them for good. The revised plan approves the reconfiguration of up to six holes. Most likely, the owners would use the holes on the less heralded Maple 9 across the street from the main golf course to create the new holes required by this plan, turning a 27-hole facility into an 18-hole course.

So in essence, the Ohio EPA would be giving Peterson’s ownership group more money for the river “slices” than the total amount the group paid for the entire property and business assets originally — basically providing Peterson’s group with a free golf course business plus a profit. In return, the public gets a significantly degraded golf course with no more “national designer” appeal (killing the desire for travelers from outside the greater Cleveland area to visit the property) and some undefined and unproven water quality benefits.

Munson Township would manage the river project if approved by the Ohio EPA, and if any of the remaining land outside the easement would cease to operate as a golf course, that land would revert to township ownership.

Last night’s Munson Township meeting caught the vast majority of the interested public off-guard. The Trustees canceled their originally scheduled meeting on August 28th, doing so just one day before it was to be held. Northeast Ohio Golf emailed the trustees’ office a number of times asking for the reason behind the cancellation, but no response was provided. No reschedule date for the canceled meeting was provided on the Munson Township website through the Labor Day weekend, other than the notice of the standard October meeting.

Some time after the Labor Day holiday, the Trustees posted a small note on their website that a meeting would be held about the golf course proposal on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., essentially providing a one-and-a-half-day notice to the public — but only if the public happened to visit their website in that time span. The location of that meeting was the Township Hall, a small space that does not accommodate a large meeting.

The Ohio EPA has not yet weighed in officially on the new clean water grant proposal from Munson Township, and probably won’t do so until October, perhaps later.  But Ohio EPA spokesman Mike Settles said today, “We appreciate the Munson Township Trustees’ interest in presenting a different alternative and are willing to evaluate it.  However, in order to conduct a thorough review we will need additional information from the township, including a revised nomination form.  As with the original proposal, a great deal of work remains before Ohio EPA makes a decision.”

Since the Ohio EPA is the funding source for all of these proposed ideas, it will be up to that agency to determine if the money to be spent is equal to the water quality benefits gained. But it is up to the applying agency to provide clear documentation of this direct water quality benefit, and to date no such hard data has been submitted to the Ohio EPA.

The public can still help fight the funding of this proposal to head off any changes to Fowlers Mill Golf Course.

The Ohio EPA’s decision on the grant proposal won’t be made any earlier than October, but there is no set deadline for the decision. As part of the assessment of environmental impacts associated with the Fowler’s Mill proposal, the public can submit comments for consideration by the Ohio EPA. These comments can be sent via email to Bob Monsarrat, and all comments will be considered prior to a final decision on the proposal.

It would also be wise for the public to make their feelings known to Governor Ted Strickland, the Munson Township Trustees [email Munson Trustees], the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, and to state senator Tim Grendell [email Tim Grendell] who represents the district in which Fowlers Mill sits.

A letter to editors of the Plain Dealer may also shine more public scrutiny on this attempted misuse of taxpayer funds and stop it, as well as blog postings to the News Herald.

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