MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Republican Senate candidate John Raese filled in wetlands and damaged more than 2 miles of streams when he rerouted them to create waterfalls on a private, 18-hole West Virginia golf course that federal regulators say he built without the required permits.
The years-long construction of Pikewood National Golf Club near Morgantown is "probably the biggest violation we've ever seen in this district," Sheila Tunney, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh, told The Associated Press.
More than two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Raese, the club's president, to develop a plan to mitigate the damage. Tunney says work on that plan is ongoing.
Raese, who's challenging incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin, recently called Pikewood "the nicest golf course in the United States" and a local job creator.
"EPA believes that several years ago, Pikewood National Golf Club disturbed some wetlands or other areas technically considered to be 'waters of the United States' under the federal Clean Water Act," Greer Industries vice president and general counsel J. Robert Gwynne said in a statement Monday afternoon. Raese is the president and chief executive of Greer, a steel and limestone producer.
"Pikewood believed it had complied with all applicable laws at the time of its construction activities and is working with the EPA to resolve all outstanding issues," Gwynne added.
Raese, himself, did not respond to a request for comment.
The millionaire businessman campaigns routinely on a platform that includes abolishing several federal agencies, including the EPA, and the government regulations that he says squelch economic development.
EPA officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about the violations but did provide the AP a copy of a six-page compliance order issued in March 2010. The last page says EPA "reserves the right to seek any remedy available under the law," including pursuit of any civil or criminal charges it deems appropriate.
Tunney said the corps first learned about the 1,300-acre golf course, which sits on the Monongalia-Preston county border, from a farmer who complained he was no longer getting water from a local stream.
The course took several years to build, and aerial photos show the waterfalls are at par-3 fifth hole, dubbed "Mow Green." The website describes it as a small, peanut-shaped green with a limestone ledge on one side and a "reflection pond" on the other.
"Designed to fit the lay of the land, Pikewood National has a natural look," its website proclaims. "In fact, the only earth that was disturbed in the making of this course was that used to build greens and tees, and the rest of the land is allowed to lie as God intended it."
But the corps says the waterfalls and ponds are not natural; they were created by rerouting waterways.
"I can only assume what they mean is they kept the natural forest around it, which they did," said Jon Coleman, a project manager in the corps' regulatory branch who has been investigating the work since mid-2009.
In all, the construction diverted, buried or otherwise disturbed nearly 2.3 miles of streams and about one-seventh of an acre of wetlands, Coleman said. Workers also built dams that disrupted Laurel Run, a tributary of Deckers Creek.