Trump's Plans for Scottish Golf Course Run Afoul of Sewage Pollution Rules
The Trump Organization faces a long battle with Scotland’s environment agencies after they objected to its plans to build a new golf course on the coast of Aberdeenshire.
The agencies have told Donald Trump’s company its plans for a second 18-hole course at his Trump International Golf Links Scotland resort north of Aberdeen breach strict rules on sewage pollution, environmental protection and conserving groundwater.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), which polices the country’s water quality and pollution regulations, has tabled formal objections to the proposed course unless the Trump Organization substantially revises its plans, and spends more on sewage and water supplies.
Aberdeenshire council, the local planning authority, has also been warned by the conservation agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) that it is unhappy with the location of the 18-hole course, to be named after Trump’s mother, Mary MacLeod, within the substantial dunes system which made the site so attractive to Trump.
SNH said there was a substantial risk parts of the course would be damaged by drifting dunes which the company’s minor changes to its design have failed to address. The agency said it risked breaching national planning policy and the national marine plan.
It pointed to a “stark experience” in February 2016 when the existing course was damaged by drifting dunes during a storm, smothering grasses planted to stabilise the dunes – a risk its critics had repeatedly warned about.
“It remains likely that in future coastal-edge dynamism would repeatedly disrupt and increasingly threaten elements of the golf course (whether tees, greens or areas stabilised to support them),” SNH told planning officers. If the Trump Organization tried to protect the course by building solid, artificial walls to stop the dunes from drifting in future, the agency said it was likely to formally object.
SEPA’s protests increase the chances that the proposed course, a key part of Trump’s much-delayed and scaled-down plans for a major golf resort at the site, will be rejected by the council or sent to a public planning inquiry.
That will add further long delays to the scheme, which was first outlined in 2008 when Trump claimed he would spend £1bn on the resort. The new dispute has already led to the cancellation of a planning hearing scheduled for mid-June.
The agency sent its letter last week just as Eric Trump, the president’s son who has now taken over day-to-day running of his father’s golf businesses in Scotland, flew into Aberdeen with a party of 30 businessmen and friends to visit the course. The Trump Organization is trying to finance a major housing development near the course.
Trump told the Press & Journal newspaper: “We have huge plans for future investment. We have a lot of things planned. We have the potential for a second course, we have tremendous opportunities for residential and hospitality that we are able to do.”
He said the first course had won “tremendous accolades”, adding: “It’s on 1,600 acres so you have unlimited room and you’re on the biggest coastal dunes in the world so that’s what makes it so special.
“We rerouted a golf course through it but this was clearly something God created over tens of millions of years – you can’t create 150ft-tall dunes.”
SEPA has told the council it will object to the scheme unless the Trump Organization drops plans to continue using a “soakaway,” a pit filled with rubble or other material, to dispose of effluent and waste water near a cottage owned by the course’s neighbours. That was only allowed as a temporary measure until December 2018, SEPA said.
In an earlier letter to the council, the company’s lawyers said it would eventually connect the resort to the public sewerage system at an unspecified later date, once doing so became "proportionate."
SEPA has rejected that and insisted the Trump Organization be ordered to connect both courses and its clubhouse to the public sewerage system at its own expense as a precondition before building the second course. “We cannot support any increased bacteriological load in this location,” SEPA has told the council.
The agency also insists the company scraps plans to create a new lagoon to provide water to irrigate the course. SEPA wants the lagoon dropped or plans to feed it from a stream across the course dropped. Any bridges need to be built to withstand exceptional floods, it adds.
It is also opposing plans to use more groundwater and surface water to irrigate the course because of the environmental risks and potential threat to neighbouring residents’ water supplies. SEPA recommends the company pays to use public water supplies instead.
The agency has insisted the Trump Organization be forced to compile a new environmental management plan for written approval by the council, SEPA and SNH to ensure pollution at the site is prevented or properly controlled.
Trump International Golf Links Scotland has not replied to the Guardian’s requests for a response to the agencies’ concerns.
Despite handing operational control of the resort and his other businesses to his sons Eric and Donald Jnr and daughter, Ivanka, the U.S. president has retained ownership of the businesses. Ethics experts in the U.S. warned earlier this year that his determination to continue expanding the resort, by adding new facilities, was in clear conflict of interest with a longstanding rule that presidents did not exploit their office for personal gain.