October 19, 2009

A Tony NC Golf Club Becomes Part of Corruption Scandal of Fomer Governor

The summer of 2002 in the southeastern US was an extremely hot and dry period, with a paucity of rain and temperatures far above normal. Normally full lakes were at record lows, streams were almost dry and across the region, restrictions and near-rationing of water resources was the norm.

Not at Old Chatham Golf Club near Durham, NC, however. Old Chatham was allowed to tap into a stream that fed an already-stressed major reservoir for the region -- for irrigation use, despite bans on any non-essential water use, commercial or private. (The picture above left is the headwaters for lake in question during the time that Old Chatham was drawing waters.) Irrigration, filling swimming pools, filling swimming pools were on the list of things that were absolute forbidden, with heavy fines for violations.
Except for Old Chatham Club. That's because Old Chatham had a very important member: the governor of NC, Mike Easley. In a classic case of them-that-has-gets:
As a four-year drought parched North Carolina into the middle of 2002, then-Gov. Mike Easley and his administration called it a major disaster. The governor urged people everywhere to save water, and he imposed stiff restrictions.

Except at Easley's exclusive private golf club in northeastern Chatham County.

New records and interviews show that Old Chatham Golf Club pumped millions of gallons from a creek leading to Jordan Lake, diverting water from one of the region's major sources to keep greens alive.

The records show that a state water resources chief questioned the pumping but that higher-level officials -- including at the Governor's Office -- got involved.

It all took place a year after golf club leaders provided Easley with a major benefit: Club directors had voted in 2001 to waive the governor's monthly membership dues. That saved Easley about $50,000 while he was in office, a break he did not reveal on financial disclosure forms.

The Easley administration is under intense investigation under several fronts in the state, with land deals, favoritism, nepotism, corruption and undisclosed benefits being at the center of allegations that a federal grand jury in Raleigh is looking at. Indictments have yet to be issued, but the consensus is that it is only a matter of time until the former governor and his staff face trial for their actions in office.

While Old Chatham and golf play only a bit part in this long running political soap opera, it is notable that an uber-exclusive private club kept its grass green and growing while the rest of the area, Pinehurst and other top-end courses included, did not. The club claims that it would have cost a million dollars to replace their sod had it 'died,' but oddly, other courses in the area that use the same strains of turf allowed the grasses to go dormant - because they could not water under the force of law. When fall came in 2002, the rains returned and the courses returned to normal pretty quickly. Old Chatham's excuse of financial loss is simply hot, dry air.

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