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Under Fire The project's engineer is the man on the spot when agency approvals are needed

April 02, 2001
April 02, 2001

Table of Contents
April 2, 2001

Golf Plus

Under Fire The project's engineer is the man on the spot when agency approvals are needed

"I think everybody's squirming a little bit today," says Bobby
Weed. It's early February and ground breaking is still 10 weeks
away, but the architect and the other members of the University
of Florida Golf Course redesign team are starting to panic over a
few pieces of paper. "Right now the entire project rests in the
hands of the engineer," says Weed, pulling up to the clubhouse in
a golf cart after a morning of sketching and note-taking on the
course. "Right now Jay Brown is the guy with the bull's-eye on
his forehead."

This is an article from the April 2, 2001 issue

An hour later, in the All-American Room, I look across the
conference table at Jay Brown. I don't see the bull's-eye, but I
note a pen in his shirt pocket--the badge of the civil engineer.
Brown, 37, is a principal of Brown & Cullen Inc., the Gainesville
firm the University Athletic Association hired to obtain all the
necessary permits from regulatory agencies. One of these
agencies, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD),
is weighing whether it will grant a no-fuss general permit for a
storm-water management system and an irrigation pumping station
that Weed wants to build adjacent to the pond by the 8th green. A
general permit is issued by the SJRWMD staff in Palatka when a
project doesn't require extensive oversight. That happens
quickly. However, if the water use is more ambitious, the staff
can require an individual permit, which involves weeks of review
and a vote by the SJRWMD board at its monthly meeting. That's a
time-consuming process, and the mere threat of delay produces
beads of sweat on the forehead of assistant athletic director
Chip Howard, who has promised Florida AD Jeremy Foley and
athletic boosters that the course will reopen on homecoming in
November with a party and a tournament.

"It's a threshold issue," Brown tells me the following afternoon
at his offices on Northwest 43rd Street. "A bigger project needs
to be looked at more closely, and the district says the threshold
is 100 acres." The golf course, alas, covers 117 acres, and if
you count the entire Florida campus, which the water district can
do, you're looking at 2,000 acres and an infinitely more complex
regulatory process. "Our argument is that the majority of the
course isn't affected by the work, so a general permit should be
sufficient." To help him make this argument, Brown has hired
Marsha Parker Tsoflat, an attorney who specializes in water
management issues and environmental permitting--and who, not
coincidentally, used to work for SJRWMD.

"If it weren't for the time constraints, I wouldn't be hiring a
lawyer," Brown says, standing in the well of his big wraparound
desk. "In fact I hate to do it. The water management district is
understaffed and overburdened, and I don't want to make its work
harder." He shrugs and taps his fingers on a thick binder of
campus water-use regulations. "The squeaky wheel gets the
grease," says Brown. "Whoever is bugging the district the most
gets the attention."

Brown has another problem, one to which he thinks the university
hasn't given enough attention. The Athletic Association wants to
move the maintenance building from the northwest portion of the
course to a site south of the 7th fairway. On a topographical map
the new site is at elevation 62. This is significant because a
series of rainstorms in 1998 sent floodwaters surging to level
60, inundating the 7th fairway. The Florida Department of
Environmental Protection does not allow storage of hazardous
materials in a floodplain. The maintenance facility will store
fuel and agricultural chemicals.

"I think I can get the floor of the facility up to 64 or 65,"
Brown says, explaining how dirt dug up from the golf course can
be used as fill to raise the ground under the new barn. But even
that won't solve the problem because a new drainage study done by
the university raises the floodplain boundary to 71.5--more than
10 feet higher than the flood level of '98. To raise the storage
floor that high, Brown would have to put the maintenance facility
on budget-busting concrete stilts or build a ramp up a man-made
mountain. (Weed, a veteran of permitting battles, smiled wearily
at the news. "We're digging holes nine feet deep and not hitting
water," he said, "and we have to build a tree house for a
maintenance facility?")

Brown will fight for the southern site, but he isn't optimistic.
"There are too many obstacles," he says. He recommends instead
that the new building be built near its current location in the
northwest corner of the property, at the intersection of 34th
Street and 2nd Avenue. This will require that Weed move the 15th
green, build the new 5th tee farther south than planned, and
plant a landscape screen between the maintenance building and the
course. "We can put in a double row of hollies," Weed conceded.
"You'll be standing twenty feet away and not see that building."

In the meantime Brown and his staff are working into the wee
hours to bring in the permits. "I'm going to have to make a huge
effort to meet the deadline," he says. "By our weekly team
meeting next Tuesday, these permit issues have to be resolved."

Brown sits in his chair and rocks, and in the bright fluorescent
light from the overheads you can see the worry lines on his
brow.

In the next installment of This Old Course, assistant athletic
director Chip Howard splits hairs, not to mention cart paths, to
keep the project on budget. We'll also eavesdrop on Weed and
Sherman as they tour the property, and we'll find out if Brown
clears all the regulatory hurdles in time for groundbreaking on
April 23. (If Brown fails, look for a new series in this spot:
Adventures of an Out-of-Work Civil Engineer.)

For previous installments of This Old Course go to
golfplus@cnnsi.com.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Florida hired Brown to deal with all the regulatory hassles.COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES

Rooting for Trees

Many trees will fall in the demolition phase of the Florida
course renovation, but the best will be saved, and about 70 have
been targeted for transplantation. "This is a good time to prune
their roots because the sap is not flowing," says course
superintendent Mark Birdsell, examining a 25-foot live oak
between the 4th and 5th fairways. "Your tree nurseries are out
right now root-pruning their trees for sale next year."

This particular tree, whose trunk is about 12 inches in diameter,
is as symmetrical as a Rorschach inkblot, unlike the moss-draped
heritage oaks that lean dramatically over various holes. That's
because this tree came from a commercial nursery. "This is about
a $3,000 tree if we purchased it today, and with installation it
would cost about $4,400," Birdsell says. "But we can hire a man
and a tree spade [to root-prune] for $1,000 a day."

The root-pruning itself is crude surgery. The tree-spade operator
backs up his truck to the tree and encircles the trunk with the
spade, a powerful machine with four knife blades angled to meet
below the ground. When the operator throws the switch, the blades
slice down through the surface roots and join under the tree to
create a compact root ball. It only takes a few minutes, and the
tree has weeks or months to develop new feeder roots before
transplantation. "We'll do some canopy work, too, trim some
branches," Birdsell says. "That's necessary to keep the tree
healthy when you've cut away the roots."

There are significant savings to be gained by transplanting,
which is why Weed's budget proposal calls for 15 days of
tree-spade work at $1,200 a day for a two-man crew. "If we can
move four eight-inch trees a day," says Scot Sherman of Weed Golf
Course Design, "you're talking only $300 a tree." In addition,
Weed plans to transplant 15 larger trees, in the 20- to 24-inch
range, and spend between $75,000 and $100,000 for 100 new oaks
and pines from a local nursery.

"There could be more," says Sherman. "If we save money on
contracts, we'll put it right back in landscaping." --J.G.