Environmental advocates sought to block construction of the $24.5 million complex that is being built to revive public golf in the city following the damage inflicted on municipal courses by Hurricane Katrina. Construction has continued throughout the litigation, a spokesman said.
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the City Park Improvement Association (CPIA) of New Orleans, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported. The suit was brought by environmental advocates opposed to the ongoing construction of a $24.5 million golf complex in the park that is being built to revive public golf in the city following the devastation of municipal courses by Hurricane Katrina.
The City Park for Everyone Coalition (CPEC) still has a pending lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which contributed $6 million in Hurricane Katrina recovery funds toward the project, The Times-Picayune reported.
The coalition argued that CPIA and FEMA together failed to consider all of the possible environmental consequences of building an 18-hole championship course and didn’t give the public enough opportunity to comment as required under federal and state laws.
In June, the CPIA challenged those claims and filed a motion to dismiss the suit, and on November 2, U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance agreed to dismiss, The Times-Picayune reported.
The lawsuit accused the CPIA of violating environmental study and public-comment laws under the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impact of their work. Opponents of the golf course accused the CPIA of failing to disclose that 5.5 acres of the Couturie Forest nature area would be cleared for the course, among other claims, The Times-Picayune reported.
Judge Vance ruled that the National Environmental Policy Act doesn’t allow for a private entity like the CPEC to sue over alleged violations, The Times-Picayune reported. Meanwhile, a plaintiff could ask for a judicial review of whether a federal agency met the environmental assessment requirements, but federal law does not authorize a judge to review actions by a non-federal defendant, such as the CPIA.
The judge also found no federal jurisdiction over the coalition’s claims against City Park under Louisiana public records, public meetings and public trust laws, The Times-Picayune reported
The plans for the golf course have sparked debate over the 1,300-acre park’s future for several years, The Times-Picayune reported. City Park leaders say the championship course will generate revenue by attracting tourists and locals alike, while making golf’s footprint in the park smaller than its pre-Katrina presence. But opponents say the course is a bad public investment in a dying sport and destroys a beautiful area of undeveloped, natural space.
CPEC President Chris Lane told The Times-Picayune that his group was disappointed by the ruling and that members are considering their next step. “Our ideal outcome would be [for] the park [to] settle with the citizens that are upset about this and find a better solution than just ramming this golf course down our throats,” Lane said.
Kevin McDunn, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he hopes the case will encourage the City Park board “to have a more robust and meaningful inclusion of the public in their decision-making process.”
City Park spokesman John Hopper said construction on the golf course never stopped because of the litigation. “We’re happy the judge chose to dismiss us from the suit,” Hopper told The Times-Picayune.
The new course is being built on top of former golf courses that closed after Katrina. The idea is for the new course to be combined with the renovated North golf course and driving range, creating a 383-acre golf complex.
The project is financed through a mix of public and private money, The Times-Picayune reported. City Park got $9.5 million in state capital outlay funds, to go along with the $6 million from FEMA. The nonprofit affordable housing developer Bayou District Foundation is paying $8.9 million and is under contract to manage the complex, with the idea of using golf revenue to further fund community development. The foundation is partnering with the PGA Tour to operate the complex.
City Park leaders have said the public had several opportunities to comment during hearings on the park’s master plan between 2005 and 2011, and the park reduced the amount of space dedicated to golf after Katrina based on the feedback, The Times-Picayune reported.
In July of 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that City Park illegally removed an acre of wetlands to make way for the course, The Times-Picayune reported. City Park said the area was actually land saturated by leaking water pipe.
City Park applied for permits from the Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for approval of the work after the fact. The Corps could require City Park to restore the wetlands or buy wetland mitigation credits, The Times-Picayune reported.
In May 2013, FEMA found that the golf course project “would not result in significant adverse impacts to the quality of the natural and human environment.” For its part, FEMA has denied the coalition’s allegations in court filings, The Times-Picayune reported.