FMERA approves golf course lease

Agreements reached for operation of Suneagles, Gibbs Hall

BY KENNYWALTER
Staff Writer

Officials are hoping to execute a contract this week for operation of the Suneagles Golf Course at Fort Monmouth, which is scheduled to close on Sept. 15.

During a special meeting on Sept. 9, board members of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) approved a no-cost lease agreement to take over management of the golf course from the U.S. Army and said they hope the course will reopen to the public shortly.

The terms of the lease are for one year with an option to extend it further, and Eatontown Mayor Gerald Tarantolo said he is pleased that the deal is done.

“I think it’s great that we are getting someone to run this golf course,” he said at the meeting. “We have to keep it operational and in top-notch shape.”

Since the course is located within Eatontown, Tarantolo may have more at stake than other FMERA members. He questioned whether the course would be subject to local ordinances and code enforcement, and FMERA Executive Director Bruce Steadman said this is a gray area.

“Whatever the prevailing rules and regulations, [that is what] the course will be operated with,” he said.

Tarantolo also questioned what is included in the lease, particularly the 19th Hole bar and the housing unit located just outside the course.

Steadman explained.

“It will include the entire golf course, Gibbs Hall, the pro shop and the 19th Hole area,” he said. “The housing area will be excluded, as it is not part of the lease.”

He also said that it would be possible at a later date to extend what the lease covers.

In August the board approved Atlantic Golf Management to operate and manage the course.

Steadman said at the time that Atlantic Golf Management will pay FMERA, a state agency, an amount between $5,000 and $11,000 per month for the length of the contract .

Additionally, revenue to the authoritywill increase ifAtlantic Golf Management’s total receipts exceed $1 million.

Last week, Steadman said that Atlantic would partner with local restaurateur Tim McLoone, whowillmanage the restaurant facility at Gibbs Hall.

Michael Pane, who chairs FMERA’s real estate committee, said the committee held a specialmeeting an hour before the vote to discuss some issues with the golf course lease.

“The two issues that we discussed the most related to insurance as well as the environment,” he said. “There is a requirement by theArmy that we be self-insured as far as our liability.

“That wouldn’t make sense from a cost perspective, let alone whether we even have the ability to do that.”

Pane also said the authority is researching whether it needs to be self-insured or if the course operators need to provide adequate insurance.

He said that staff is also checking whether FMERAis on the hook for any environmental permit costs.

“Obviously we don’t want to incur any costs, so the question is, are there any permits required solely for operation of the golf course,” Pane said.

The deal did draw some criticism from the public, particularly environmentalist Tom Mahedy, who said he heard in the past that sewage sludge was used for fill at the course.

FMERAChairman James Gorman said he was confident that the course is safe for the public.

“In my opinion, I don’t believe the Army would have opened up access to the general public to this golf course if theArmy believed there was a hazardous condition present,” he said .

Mahedy also brought up a past pesticide spill, which Steadman said does not pose a threat.

“There was a PCB spill from an old transformer many years ago, and theArmy has indicated that it is contained underneath the asphalt and will never be redeveloped or restored,” he said. “It is the intention of the Army to leave it there since it is not going to cause any issues where it is.”

Steadman also said that should any contamination problems come up in the future, it is the Army’s responsibility.

“The lease clearly calls it out that any contamination caused by theArmy, known or unknown, will be assumed by the Army,” he said. “The operator will be performing pesticide operation on the golf course just as the operator does on the other golf courses they operate.”

Lincroft resident Phil Welch was also concerned that with a private operator, course fees may be raised.

“It occurs to me that the operator could send the fees high enough that the public can’t really participate,” he said.

However, under the contract, the operator cannot raise fees for the remainder of 2011 and can raise fees up to 20 percent in 2012.

Mahedy requested that the authority make some information about Atlantic Golf Management public.

“The governor has come out really strongly about transparency, so I would ask in the spirit of that that the public have access to actually what are their contributions to who andwhat their connections are,” he said. “The public owns these lands and they bought the landwith their tax money, and we don’t know who the people are.”

Mahedy was also critical of the 11 a.m. start for the special meeting.

“I feel this public meeting could have been held at times when the public could have attended,” he said. “I don’t think it shows good faith to the public.

“This is a big decision, and I think the public has every right to be here and you’ve made it very difficult to do so,” he added.

Now that the lease has been approved, Steadman said he is confident that the authority will execute a contract with Atlantic Golf Management by Sept. 15, and Gorman said there is pressure to do so because the greens on the course stopped being maintained on Sept. 12.

“You can maybe get away with a week, but after that, they are going to be ruined,” Gorman said.

Contact Kenny Walter at kwalter@gmnews.com.