Owners of The Lakes Golf Course have decided not to continue to fill a lake on Lakeside Boulevard in Ahwatukee now that the golf course has shut down for business. That is forcing the neighboring homeowners association’s pond to dry up and residents are scrambling to save stranded fish and turtles.
Terry Duggan, general manager of Ahwatukee Golf Properties, and Robert Blakesley, general manager of the Ahwatukee Board of Management, said they are working closely with Arizona Game and Fish and the Phoenix Herpetological Society to try and save turtles and fish who have been trapped in the quickly-drying pond on Lakeside Boulevard. The turtles and fish, once captured, will be transported to other lakes that have been approved by Arizona Game and Fish.
Ahwatukee Golf Properties shut down the golf course in May. Owners told residents for months before that the course was not making money and was actually costing money to run. Now that the course is closed a decision was made not to fill a lake on the property, which is usually filled by rainwater and irrigation. That water flows through a storm pipe to the small pond owned by the Ahwatukee Board of Management (ABM).
Blakesley said without water in the lake, there’s no way to keep water in the pond.
“Under the street there are two storm water pipes that go from our side to the golf course side,” he said. “Those we can’t close up to put water in our side. Both sides have to have water or it won’t work.”
The HOA is reviewing its options for the pond. In the coming weeks, once all the animals are cleared out, Blakesley said they plan to pump out the remaining water and once the mud is dry they’ll cover the area with grass. It will be kept as a retention basin for storm water.
Until the pond is dry enough to work with, the ABM has put a chain-link fence around the hole to keep people from getting into the mud and possibly getting stuck. The process to transition the area to something pleasant to look at again could take time and depends on the weather, Blakesley said, especially now that it’s monsoon season.
The ABM has an aquatic chemist who regularly checks the pond. She will help transport any turtles she finds to other lakes she maintains that have received state approval to hold turtles.
Duggan said the golf course will likely drain the entire lake on their side. For now, the water has been evaporating. Any turtles or fish found will be transported to another lake on the same property that will not be drained. Duggan said they’ll be contracting with someone who is licensed to relocate the turtles to do so.
Debbie Gibson, of the Phoenix Herpetological Society (PHS), said it’s unknown how many turtles could be in the lake or the pond. The ABM and Ahwatukee Golf Properties have never put turtles in the water, but it’s typical for residents who no longer want them as pets to ditch them in open ponds, she said. Gibson added that in private ponds and lakes she has seen anywhere from 10 to 100 turtles hiding in the water. How many there are won’t be clear until all the water is drained. When the turtles do run out of water, they’ll scatter.
The PHS has already taken in eight turtles that have been found in yards near the lake and pond. As residents have called, Gibson said she has allowed them to bring the turtles to their campus to live in their ponds. The PHS does not have the resources to capture the turtles from the pond themselves, but they are assisting with finding new locations and getting approval from the state to relocate them. They’ll also be training any employees of Ahwatukee Golf Properties on proper ways to capture and transport the turtles.
“I understand that Mr. Gee doesn’t want this to be a golf course anymore,” said Tom Brocco, an Ahwatukee resident who lives on the 16th green of the course. “No one can force him to run a business that isn’t making money anymore. That’s fine. But it seems like there should be a way to close it with less disruption to the people who live on it and the creatures who live in it. It’s quickly becoming unsightly.”
Brocco also mentioned his disappointment with the ABM for not getting involved with the issue of the golf course shutting down. There is a group of residents who have formed Save the Lakes to enforce the neighborhood CC&Rs, which say the golf course must be maintained as a golf course. Blakesley said he could not comment on that issue.
Ahwatukee Golf Properties owns several courses in Ahwatukee Foothills. The closing of The Lakes has caused some residents to worry about the future of the other courses, especially the Foothills, which has not been transitioning easily to summer grass.
If the course doesn’t look its best it is not a sign that ownership is attempting to shut down that course, Duggan said. It is simply due to lack of proper maintenance by the previous owners.
“We’re fighting history,” Duggan said. “The company that owned the course before us didn’t do any maintenance at all here. The type of water we use is very salty so you have to aerify and use chemicals. You have to do everything you can to break up the salt in the soil or it’ll cause you issues. It’s not where we want it to be, but we’re working on it as hard as we can.”
Duggan said they’ve purchased expensive equipment to help with the process and they hope in future years the transition will be much easier.
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