The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued a scathing report which included the failure to build a walkway around the entire golf course, while local and county Homeland Security offices have warned the golf course against opening more walkway at the risk of allowing unsupervised public access to what the FBI has called "the most dangerous two miles in America."
The matter came to a head several weeks when an anonymous letter dated July 14 was sent to city and state officials regarding infractions at the golf course and resulted in an inspection by Suzanne Dietrick of the state DEP, who cited about a dozen alleged areas in which the golf course failed to comply with agreements or appeared to violate conditions for waterfront development permits.
The 18-hole Scottish links style course located on the northern short of Constable Hook opposite the south side for the former Military Ocean Terminal has been years in the planning, and a story full of twists and turns that has Empire Golf spending as much as $49 million so far to build and nearly half as much by the previous developer OENJ-Cherokee.
The golf course is primarily built on a 120- acre site that serves as the municipal dump from 1910 to 1983, a municipal landfill and an industrial fill site formerly owned by PSE&G, once considered as a site for a nuclear power generating plant.
The DEP citations claim the Bayonne Golf Course had allegedly violated requirements mandated by waterfront development permits, although in some cases, the golf course has received permission from other governmental bodies permitting various uses the DEP seemed to find objectionable.
Dietrick cited the golf course for failing to complete the riverfront walkway, but Homeland Security people from both the city and the county said an additional walkway should not be allowed because it could allow access to the 680-acre site along the southern boundary of the golf course, which is the largest home oil storage facility in the nation, and listed by federal Homeland Security Agency as a highly probable area of terrorist attack.
"This is not Hoboken or Jersey City, this is the end of line in Bayonne," said Rinaldo M. D'Argenio, attorney for Empire Golf, which owns and operates Bayonne Golf Club. "No one lives at the Bayonne Golf Club. We're in an industrial area. That's different from places like Hoboken where the walkway is in a residential area. The DEP doesn't recognize the distinction."
Bayonne Police Director Mark Smith said access to the "beach area" should be restricted.
D'Argenio said these risks were a concern since construction started and the golf course has alternative plans for continuing the walkway out into the water shallows and the construction several islands, one of which would become a nature habitat and oyster beds.
Golf course cited in other areas, too
The DEP also complained about the gate to the public portion of the walkway being closed after 7 p.m. when under state regulations, waterfront walkways are supposed to remain open 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.
But Smith and other city officials said the Golf Course Walkway differs sharply from other similar walkways along the Hudson River's Gold Coast in that it located in a non-residential area, creating a situation that poses a safety risk. City officials noted that walkways located in parks are also closed after dark, and have asked the golf course to operate the walkway with the same time schedule.
Dietrick also cited the golf course's helicopter pad, saying it was located in the beach front area where the waterfront walkway was supposed to go.
D'Argenio said the pad had been constructed with the approval of the FAA and all the appropriate federal permits, and located away from the exiting public walkway behind a security gate. Since the beach section is not being used as a public walkway, there is no safety issue with the helicopters, D'Argenio said.
DEP had a similar complaint about golf carts using the beach area. Since the beach area is not being used by the general public as a walkway, there is no safety issue in regards to pedestrians, he said. One of the significant areas of concern, however, was the use of a waterfront area as a driving range. During a June 13 site visit, Dietrick observed golfers using unauthorized tee boxes constructed on a berm along the Eastern Mitigation area.
"The golf balls land in a silt curtain-surrounded area of the bay," the report said. "Golf balls are then collected from the water area via a boat."
Dietrick said the activity violates the permitted uses in a wetlands area because it appears to impede the movement of fish in and out of the mitigation area.
D'Argenio argued that the netting to collect the balls is temporary, and is removed at the end of the season.
In addition, Dietrick cited the golf club for failing to construct a kayak launch as agreed to as part of the waterside development, unaware that the Bayonne Planning Board had asked the club to relocate the launch to a section of the former Military Ocean Terminal where parking exists nearer the water.
"If we constructed the Kayak launch where they original wanted it, people would have had to carry their kayaks - presumably on their backs - from the parking lot to the launch," D'Argenio said.
Dietrick's report was also critical of the arrangements the golf course has for docking of its ferry, a service that connects a small temporary pier with lower Manhattan.
The waterfront development permit issued last January authorized the construction of a marina, one portion of which was supposed to be used for docking the ferry.
But during the June 13 visit, Dietrick noted that a floating dock called a spud barge was being used.
"Of course we're using a spud barge as a temporary dock while the marina and dock are being constructed," D'Argenio said. "We've been open two months and we still have things we need to do."
Club sees itself as a good corporate citizen
The slap on the knuckles from the DEP and the unsigned letter of complaint stung owners and operators of the Bayonne Golf Club partly because the club has given a lot of the community.
"If we had polluted the environment, or done something grossly wrong, I would feel terrible," D'Argenio said. "While I feel bad about this, I don't believe we've done anything wrong. If fact, I think we've done a lot of things right. We've been a good neighbor and a good corporate citizen. Have we done everything perfectly? No. But we've not violated the law, and we're still in the process here. Whatever compromises we made we've made out of necessity."
The unsigned letter of complaint stung because D'Argenio believes the Bayonne Golf Club turned the contaminated city dump, a public eyesore, and turned it into something Bayonne residents could be proud of.
Eric Bergstol, president of Empire Golf Management, who designed the Bayonne course, insisted the club be named after the city in which it is located, a Scottish tradition.
But the club is not out of touch in other ways, doing business locally whenever it can, and hiring as many local people as possible. Many of the caddies that work at the club are Bayonne residents. D'Argenio dispelled the public perception that the club received perks from the city.
"Not one penny of public money went into this project," he said. "Did we take advantage of the city's ability to get a low interest loan to build the walkway? Sure we did. But we're going to pay that back."
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