Certified Golf Course Superintendent John Kotoski of Maryland has earned an environmental appointment to a statewide commission.
To the uninitiated, golf courses and the environment aren’t a good mix. Those in the know, however, realize that nothing could be further from the truth. Many golf course superintendents are taking active roles in their communities to promote golf courses as environmental stewards, and others are turning to superintendents for the knowledge that they can bring to the discussion.
John Kotoski, Certified Golf Course Superintendent at River Run Golf Club in Berlin, Md., has accepted a statewide role that will take full advantage of his environmental expertise. In August, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed him to the state’s Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities.
The Commission advises state agencies on issues related to environmental justice and sustainable communities, and it coordinates recommendations on these issues with the Children’s Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council. The commission analyzes and reviews the effect of current state laws, regulations, and policies on the equitable treatment and protection of communities threatened by development or environmental pollution, and determines the areas that need immediate attention. The group also assesses the adequacy of current statutes to ensure environmental justice, and develops criteria to pinpoint communities that need sustaining.
Kotoski recently spoke to Club & Resort Business about his role on the commission.
Q: What is the purpose of the Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities?
A: The Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities was previously established by executive order on January 1, 2001, and statutorily signed into law on May 22, 2003. The Commission examines environmental justice and community sustainability issues that may be associated with creating healthy, safe, economically vibrant, environmentally sound communities for all Marylanders in a manner that allows for democratic processes and community involvement. Maryland’s approach to environmental justice is consistent with the approach advocated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA calls for states to address environmental justice issues as appropriate and for improvements in efficiency and sustainability in the use of resources and production processes.
The EPA defines E.J. as: “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
Fair treatment means that no group of people including a racial, ethnic, or socio-economic group should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies.
Additionally, Maryland’s definition, which builds on the EPA’s definition, specifically notes that all citizens of the state should expect (1) to be protected from public health hazards and (2) to have access to the socio-economic resources necessary to address concerns about their livelihood and health.
Q: What is your role on the commission, and what kind of expertise do you bring to the table as a golf course superintendent?
A: As a commissioner we would review any complaints that come from the community when they feel that one of the charges listed above are happening. I represent the business community as an operator of a golf course and housing community. I also build homes here at River Run.
Q: What is the biggest challenge that golf courses face when it comes to environmental justice?
A: Being new to the board, I have not seen or been exposed to any issues yet that affect golf. But I believe that if a course construction either was proposed in a community or was transformed into home sites, local community activists would have concerns about the environment based on old notions that golf course pollute.
Q: What effect have current state laws, regulations and policies had on golf courses in Maryland?
A: The current Maryland Watershed Implementation Plan (WHIP) for Bay restoration has a section that affects fertilization use and resale in the state.
Q: What areas need immediate attention from the commission?
A: The commission currently deals with commercial operations in mix-zoned communities. Things like recycling plants, etc., that are mixed in with residential housing.
Q: What other groups are represented on the commission?
A: There are state agencies like the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), local politicians, local activists, lawyers, environmentalists, and commercial business managers.
Q: What type of involvement have you had with environmental advocacy issues in the past?
A: Early in my golf career I served on the conservation commission for the town of Oxford, Massachusetts. That commission was charged with reviewing and approving building permits that had any activity that may be in a wetland. We would issue guidelines from the state on how an applicant could proceed with their activity.
Q: What is the biggest misconception that the general public has about golf courses and the environment, and what is the best way to change it?
A: Most people think we use too much fertilizer and pesticides and therefore, we must pollute the soil and nearby streams. I found that by educating the membership or the general public or by serving on local committees, one can change that perception.
Q: How would you describe the application of state environmental laws to the golf industry?
A: In most cases it is based on old farming data that does not correlate to growing turf.
Q: How do golf courses enhance the quality of life in their communities?
A: They provide open space, recreation space and less noise; they clean water entering and crossing the course, and harbor wildlife. They also cool the surrounding air with no blacktop heating up.
Q: Where do the main environmental improvements need to be made in the state, and how can the golf industry and the commission help?
A: The only thing I see for the golf industry is providing scientific information for the current WHIP policy that would adversely affect how courses operate. The commission is currently coming up with an outreach program to businesses, and I am part of that sub-committee.
Q: How has River Run Golf Club contributed to sustainability in the community?
A: Since we have housing around the course, the course has seven storm water management ponds that store and filter runoff from the roads and home sites located here. Three ponds are used as irrigation, and the others allow water to slowly drain to the local St. Martins River.