Aug. 12, 2022: This story has been updated to reflect new information from a U.S. Navy spokesperson.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman has formally proposed to the Navy that a 150-acre wetland forest called Greenbury Point, being eyed by the Naval Academy in Annapolis as an 18-hole golf course, instead be turned over to Anne Arundel on a long-term lease for public use as a conservation area.
Pittman floated the idea on Wednesday in a letter to the commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Annapolis, Homer Denius. Pittman said Thursday in an interview that he believes Naval authorities will seriously consider his proposal.
Greenbury Point—a protected wildlife and natural resources sanctuary bordering Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay owned by the Navy—has been the center of an ongoing controversy since late June, when the Navy publicly acknowledged that it was reviewing the golf course proposal. The plan was submitted by the president of the Naval Academy Golf Association (NAGA), Chet Gladchuk, to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro on Feb. 15. Gladchuk is also the Naval Academy’s director of athletics.
Pittman said he has spoken to the Navy’s official in charge at Naval Support Activity Annapolis, which manages the Greenbury Point, as well as Vice Admiral Sean Buck, superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.
“They were glad that I called and spoke to them, and that they are certainly open to alternative proposals,” Pittman said. “They’re very open to working with the county to manage the space and the public. I believe it’s well-received, and that there will be future conversations about it.”
He cautioned, however, that the golf course proposal was still on the table. “I think they’re going to have to make some decisions in the coming months about which direction to go,” he said, referring to Naval authorities. “I have spoken to the senators and the congressmen and have spoken to our Maryland representatives as well. And all of them have expressed environmental concerns about the golf course proposal.”
The county has existing funding in its Fiscal Year 2023 budget that could be utilized to create concept designs and begin community engagement, Pittman said in his letter. Maintaining Greenbury Point as a conservation area aligns with the county’s Plan2040, “which prioritizes the preservation of trees, greenspaces, and water quality,” he wrote.
Pittman said the county already has a lease with the Navy for the Navy Dairy Farm in Gambrills and an easement for three old Navy antenna towers on Greenbury Point. “So, it’s a natural progression,” Pittman said. “It keeps the Navy from having to maintain what is the public park and I know that they have had issues managing the public, and budgetary issues. Their money should be spent on national defense.”
Environmental advocates and Annapolis residents have cheered the proposal, saying it would resolve the controversy hanging over Greenbury Point and will preserve its status as a protected wildlife sanctuary.
“We are glad to see the county proposing an alternative vision for Greenbury Point that cherishes and preserves its natural beauty and character,” said Jesse Iliff, executive director of the Severn River Association, an environmental nonprofit. “The need for expanded public access to our common natural resources is real and the vision articulated in County Executive Pittman’s letter would make Greenbury Point more accessible for all, while retaining and protecting its natural resources,” he said.
Sue Stienbrook, an Annapolis resident-turned-activist who’s been pushing back against the golf course proposal, said Pittman’s proposal would preserve Greenbury Point’s history. “With the decline of Bay grasses and crabs, it’s imperative that we protect that landscape and it is a gem to the Chesapeake Bay,” she added.
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But the Navy’s immediate reaction was concerning to her and others in the environmental community.
“Greenbury Point is a part of a naval installation and therefore is owned by the Navy,” said Denius, the Naval Support Activity Annapolis commanding officer. “What I’d like everyone to know is that it might be federal property, but it does not mean it’s public.”
Denius said that the Navy understands that “people like to walk, run or hike at Greenbury Point and sometimes it’s an inconvenience when we close the area,” which serves periodically as a training ground for the Naval Academy. A Navy spokesman subsequently clarified that the Navy had spent $1 million on the park.
Edward Zeigler, public affairs director for Naval District Washington, later said that the Greenbury Point restrictions referenced by Denius have nothing to do with the Anne Arundel County executive’s letter. “The restrictions have been ongoing due to training and mission requirements,” he said.