Griggs makes pledge to fight driving range

Ruth Griggs, R-Occoquan, went on record Thursday and said she would tie herself to a tree to if the construction of a driving range at Lake Ridge Park threatened to destroy a single tree on the Eagle Scout Trail that meanders along the shores of the Occoquan River.

“Absolutely,” she said to a pair of golfers who expressed doubt that she would actually commit to activism.

“If it is the will of this community to keep this as it is,” she said as she gestured to the trail behind her, “then yes.”

Griggs made the statement to the golfers, Lake Ridge residents and members of the Prince William Conservation Alliance and the Lake Ridge Citizens for Trees during a press conference Thursday afternoon.

The Prince William Park Authority has proposed building a driving range to accompany the First Tee Program, which according to promotional material is “a World Golf Foundation initiative that gives America’s youth a chance to develop life enhancing through golf and character education.”

Few oppose the First Tee program, just the location of the driving range.

Griggs said she is convinced the majority of her constituents prefer to keep the 3.5 acres of trees rather than have them cut down to build the driving range.

“Think this through a minute, this is an entity, the park authority, that is supposed to provide amenities to the community, and it’s going to destroy one amenity to create another. And the amenity it is going to destroy is by and large an amenity the community wants, to put in an amenity the community doesn’t want,” Griggs said.

Aaron Martin, one of the doubtful golfers who is in favor of the driving range, said he was under the impression that the trail would simply be moved to accommodate the driving range.

“If the trail is going to be done away with, that’s one thing, but it’s not. It’s going to moved. That’s maximizing the utilization of the course,” said Martin, who is retired from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Griggs said moving the trail would diminish the quality of the park. “I can walk around the parking lot and call that a place to walk, but it’s not an aesthetically pleasing place to walk,”Griggs said.

“An environment must sustain the citizens of the county,” Martin, 71, replied.

“We had 79 students here last year and they wanted to put more students in but they didn’t have the facilities,” he said.

Martin said the driving range would allow more children to participate in a program that he said could be beneficial to children between the time they get out of school and their working parents get home.

“With this driving range they can increase the capabilities of working with these youngsters, up to 2,000, and now for a few trees you’re going to say, ‘No, we’re going to bus them somewhere.’ Who’s going to pay for the bus?” Martin asked.

“Who’s going to get 2,000 kids here?” Griggs asked. Letters, phone calls and e-mails to her office, indicate overwhelming support for the trees, Griggs said.

By her reckoning, the park authority’s own statistics indicate that people in the county want more forested areas in which to walk.

“When the Park Authority surveyed, Occoquan District residents in particular, they emphasized that passive places to walk and have trees was the number one most missing thing in the Occoquan District and it was important to them,” Griggs said.

Another concern of some of the environmentalists was the perception that the Park Authority tried to build the driving range without telling the public about its plans.

Robert McBride, the Libertarian candidate for the Occoquan District seat Griggs will vacate at the end of her current term, spoke Thursday afternoon.

“It seems like the Park Authority has been trying, somewhat, to move these plans through in a little bit of secrecy,” McBride said.

Martin couldn’t take it, wouldn’t let the statement stand, at face value, uncontested and came to the Park Authority’s defense.

“The Park Authority went through every legal channel and did what it was supposed to do according to the law,” he said.

Beth Robertson, Park Authority spokeswoman, who was also at the press conference, said the Park Authority board followed standard procedure in its quest for a driving range.

“The Park Authority follows the same process for every single public thing we do. We are required by law to follow specific postings, where we post, how many days in advance. We follow that process for every single project that we do,” Robertson said.

Still, McBride said he would ask for accountability from the Park Authority. “We’re going to ask the Park Authority to be up front about the estimates, which we have not seen yet, about maintaining the facility, and cleaning up the nitrates that going to go into the water and also the questions you have and I have,” McBride said.

The environmentalists accused the Park Authority of not conducting environmental impact surveys before considering construction and tree removal.

Robertson denied the charge.

“There was minimal study done. There can be further studies done,” Robertson said. At any rate, Robertson said, nothing has been decided.

The options for keeping the driving range at Lake Ridge Park include reconfiguration and relocating some existing facilities within the park, Robertson said.

Some of the options for outside the park include contracts with existing commercial driving ranges. “At this point the Park Authority Board has not made a decision. They are very anxious to hear people’s comments, both for and against. We want to know what the citizens of this county have said,” Robertson said.

Griggs, the Lake Ridge Homeowners Association and the conservation alliance will host a town meeting Saturday for people to come and voice their opinions about the driving range.

The meeting will be between 10 a.m. and noon at the McCoart Building at One County Complex Road.

Sandy McElhanney, who has two sons in the First Tee program, listened to the discussion and stood at the back of the crowd with her hand raised for a while before she got her turn to speak.

“The Park Authority has offered several different options with regard to the driving range, many scaled down, many responses to the concerns that have been raised by your group,” said McElhanney, 38, of Lake Ridge.

“But you all aren’t responding to them,” she continued. “There’s no compromise on your side, yet these kids are being forced to compromise. The kids who participate in an enhanced First Tee Program may not have access to an enhanced program because you aren’t willing to compromise.”

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