Pike’s Landing, a landmark restaurant at a waterfront lodge in Fairbanks, Alaska, challenged patrons to buy a golf ball and try to hit it from its dockside range across the Chena River. But after environmental activists complained, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation deemed the promotion illegal.
A Fairbanks, Alaska restaurant is in trouble with the state over a golf game that often sends balls into the Chena River, Alaska Public Media reported.
The restaurant, Pike’s Landing, is part of Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, which has a driving range on the property’s riverfront. But that range has now been closed, Alaska Public Media reported, due to environmental concerns that arose over a restaurant promotion that challenged patrons to buy a golf ball and try to drive it across the water.
But many who try see their shots fall short, Alaska Public Media reported, and that got the attention of Rick Steiner, an environmental activist, who then lodged a complaint with the state.
Steiner told Alaska Public Media that when he stopped in Fairbanks on his way home following a float trip in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, he ”came through Pike’s and saw these people hitting golf balls right into the river and couldn’t believe it.” He complained about the practice in early July to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Tiffany Larson, a compliance officer with that agency, told Alaska Public Media that it was then determined that Pike’s Landing was allowing illegal practices and that it has been ordered to shut down the range until and unless proper corrective measures can be taken.
Larson, who said the state had not taken action because the issue had never been previously raised, told Alaska Public Media that the state is now ”determining what level of violation [Pike’s Landing] has committed [by determining if the practice] affects water violations or solid-waste violations.”
“We’re trying to ascertain exactly what’s the composition of a golf ball, and what does it constitute,” Larson explained.
A study found that a standard golf ball could take up to a thousand years to naturally degrade, Alaska Public Media reported, releasing toxins as it does. Specific to the Pike’s property, the DEC’s Larson said that more environmentally friendly options are being considered as part of trying to reach a resolution for that situation, “such as biodegradable golf balls [or] some sort of reclamation effort for catching all of the golf balls,”
Steiner, a biologist and former Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of Alaska, told Alaska Public Media that golf balls are slightly “negatively buoyant” in fresh water, which means that after landing in the Chena they would likely carry downstream to the Tanana and Yukon Rivers and eventually to the Bering Sea. Once in the denser ocean water, he said, the danger would be that the golf balls would float to the surface and could can be eaten by wildlife.
”I have, in my work in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, found hundreds of dead albatross chock full of plastic items, and a lot of these dead albatross had golf balls in them,” Steiner told Alaska Public Media. “[Golf balls have] also shown up in dead whale carcasses on beaches.”
Steiner admitted that no evidence to date has been found of golf balls from Pike’s Landing ending up in the ocean or wildlife, but the restaurant’s driving range has likely sent thousands into the Chena River, he said.
The owner of Pike’s Landing and Pike’s Waterfront Lodge, former state legislator Jay Ramras, told Alaska Public Media that the range dates back to before he bought both the restaurant and the lodge in 1999. Ramras contended that he’s being unfairly singled out among local golf venues by the environmentalists and the state.
“They all have state waterways that run through their property and all have ball hazards,” Ramras said. “We serve 1,600 golfers, roughly, per summer. I’m quite certain that there are more golfers on the other three golf courses in Fairbanks who are hitting into water hazards that are also state waterways every day of summer.”
Ramras also cited numerous environmentally beneficial projects at the Pike’s properties, including solar energy, composting and a hydroponic greenhouse, as well as river-protection efforts that have been conducted with various agencies and groups.
Ramras told Alaska Public Media that he immediately closed down the property’s golf venue after talking to the DEC, but noted that he has yet to receive an official compliance letter.
”Give me a letter and tell me what I did wrong and I will go about correcting it right away,” he said. “But meanwhile, I have a damaged small business that wants to do the right thing, and whose good name and good stewardship of the river has been swamped by a curious media and a non-responsive state agency.”
Larson told Alaska Public Media that she expects the Pike’s property’s golf issue to be resolved this summer and that as part of that resolution, the DEC is likely to issue a statement on the broader concern of all golf-related enterprises that may pose potential threats to public waterways.
Steiner said that he has also asked the agency to look into possible violations that occur during the annual Bering Sea Ice Golf Classic, a six-hole tournament which is held in Nome, Alaska as part of the festivities surrounding the Iditarod dog sled race.