With the 2019 renovation of the Naval Academy Golf Course or the more recent construction of the cottages on Greenbury Point, there was no public comment period and no publicly available documentation for either project – all of which is completely allowable.
When a construction project on federal land is determined not to have a significant effect on the human environment, the requirement for public input goes away, as does publicly disclosed information about the project.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was created to protect taxpayer-funded, federal lands by ensuring environmental oversight of all projects being done on these properties – the Council on Environmental Quality was created by the NEPA for that oversight.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, “The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process begins when a federal agency develops a proposal to take a major federal action. These actions are defined at 40 CFR 1508.1EXITEXIT EPA WEBSITE. The environmental review under NEPA can involve three different levels of analysis:
- Categorical Exclusion determination (CATEX)
- Environmental Assessment/Finding of No Significant Impact (EA/FONSI)
- Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)”
Categorical exclusions and findings of no significant impact eliminate a lot of public documentation, as well as public input.
The Naval Academy Golf Course renovation was done in 2019.
“According to our Public Works Dept. (PWD) the project was a renovation to the Greens and Bunkers and received a NEPA Categorical Exclusion, along with other appropriate permits, stated Ed Ziegler, director of public affairs for Naval District Washington. “A NEPA Categorical Exclusion is defined as “a class of actions that a Federal agency has determined, after review by Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is normally required. The use of categorical exclusions can reduce paperwork and save time and resources.”
This statement about saving time and resources can be found in other government mentions about categorical exclusions – the language is ambiguous, with no indication the resources being saved include natural resources.
Ziegler was asked about a publicly posted review of the Naval Academy Golf Course, which states, “They removed around 500 trees to open up air flow and changed the grass to 3 or 4 different Bermuda varieties.”
“I have not been able to confirm that 500 tress (sp) were removed,” Ziegler stated. “Our PWD combed through documentation and could not find where trees were removed. There have been several projects at the golf course over the last few years and the only project that discussed trees being removed was the Short Game Practice Course project. A building was installed, which required some trees to be removed, but they were mitigated with the replacement of trees. “
Replacement of trees is a requirement in critical areas. All of Greenbury Point is in the critical area.
Adding to the already diminished requirements for public input and publicly disclosed information, there were major changes to the NEPA by the last administration.
While the current administration has restored much of what was changed, some projects were done during the last administration – including the renovation of the Naval Academy Golf Course.
“For example, in 2019, the Department of Navy proposed new or revised Categorical Exclusions; and as required, notice of these changes was published in the Federal Register (see attached),” stated Ziegler. ” Subsequently, Table 10-6 of the Environmental Readiness Program Manual was updated to reflect the approved changes to the Department of Navy Categorical Exclusions. If and when the Department of Navy determines that an individual project or action, such as the 2019 NAGA Bunkers and Green Renovation project, is on the CATEX list (Table 10-6 of the manual), there is no requirement that the CATEX determination be published in the Federal Register.”
The construction of the cottages on Greenbury Point, a project of Naval Support Activity Annapolis Moral, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) is a different story and that starts over a decade ago.
“With regards to the MWR Cottages, the project qualified for an EA and the final EA was completed in 2008,” stated Ziegler. ” The final Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was signed in 2010 and the Notice of Availability (NOA) / EA & FONSI for the MWR Cottages was published in the Capital Gazette on April 30, May 1, and May 2, 2010 (see attached).”
Now with the possibility of a golf course expansion at Greenbury Point, if that proposal was to move forward what, if any, transparency there would be is a mystery.
When asked if a categorical exclusion has been requested for the golf course expansion that has been proposed, or if a previous categorical exclusion could be used, Ziegler replied, “We have nothing to submit. No decision has been made on the proposal.”
Categorical exclusions have long been questioned by others, including by the U.S. government itself and by environmental organizations – there’s been no shortage of lawsuits related to what New York University Law Review referred to as “Circumventing the National Environmental Policy Act: Agency Abuse of the Categorical Exclusion.”
A Citizens Guide to NEPA, published in 2021, can be seen below but it’s likely out of date given the changes to the NEPA that happened this year.citizens-guide-to-nepa-2021
Opposition continues to mount against the possibility of a golf course expansion. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Conservancy and Severn River Association have all shared their opposition.
A recent poll of the public about the golf course expansion was commissioned by Chesapeake Conservancy and Severn River Association –Greenbury-Point-Poll-Memo-060222
When asked about golf course expansion proposal and opposition to it, Chet Gladchuk, president of the Naval Academy Golf Association, replied, “a number of concepts are being studied and a broad range of considerations are being reviewed…there is nothing more formal than what has been publicly shared to date.”
“What has been publicly shared to date” is very little and in keeping with an allowable pattern for projects at NSA Annapolis.
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Donna L. Cole is an award-winning multimedia and investigative reporter. She’s also a veteran of the U.S. Navy. (Full disclosure – she will likely be eligible to rent a cottage at Greenbury Point once they’re finished.)
Further reading about this topic –