The Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission today formally launched a project that will transform more than a thousand acres of former landfills and contaminated sites in southern Bergen and Hudson Counties into a world-class golf course complex.
The HMDC and EnCap Golf Holdings, LLC, of Tampa, Florida, signed an agreement for the remediation of six landfills within the Meadowlands District, the development of a recreational complex, habitat enhancements, and related amenities.
Im happy to witness the signing of a plan that will yield winners all around, said Governor Christie Whitman. Today, the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission formally reaches an agreement with the private developer EnCap Golf on a project that should have a positive and profound impact on this area of the Garden State.
In this plan, Gov. Whitman
said that the State is solving problems by creating opportunity as this project will not
only bring more jobs and a greener Garden State, but it will also give golfers another
Whereas yesterday there was environmental contamination and the liability of unattractive landfills, tomorrow there will be the green beauty of open space and the opportunity for more and more of our citizens to enjoy healthy sports activity in the urban wilderness of the Meadowlands, Kenny said. This is truly a desirable transformation.
EnCap Golf of Tampa, Florida, a development company specializing in the design and construction of golf courses and related amenities on landfills nationwide, will enter into a 99-year lease arrangement with the HMDC for the development of 36 holes of golf in Rutherford, Lyndhurst, and North Arlington, with an option to develop an additional 36 holes in the towns of North Arlington and Kearny.
Phase One of the project calls for 27 to 36 holes of golf on the Rutherford Landfill, the Lyndhurst and Avon Landfills in Lyndhurst, and the Kingsland Landfill in Lyndhurst and North Arlington, along with clubhouse, support buildings, a 330- to 650-room hotel, and the possibility of timeshare units.
At least 18 holes in Phase One will be a public golf course. All the golf courses will be of the links (Scottish) style, which incorporates natural topography and vegetation, including the high grasses that attract wildlife species. As much as 60% of the total acreage will remain as natural or enhanced habitat.
A Phase two option would permit an additional 36 holes of golf and related amenities on the Erie Landfill in North Arlington, and the 1-E Landfill in North Arlington and Kearny.
The Golf Course Project will be designed using the following principals: environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, public involvement, integrated pest management, water conservation, and water quality management.
This project gives us a wonderful opportunity to close landfills and convert wastelands into verdant green open space, said Alan J. Steinberg, Executive Director of the HMDC. This public/private partnership is a home run. It is the ultimate example of where the needs of the environment do not need to be in conflict with economic development but rather blend together beautifully. In this project both the environment and the economy will benefit, Steinberg said.
The landfills will be filled and capped with a combination of materials, including clay and/or sediments dredged from the New York/New Jersey Harbor, to provide for the necessary deepening and widening of harbor channels over the next four to six years.
Our golf course project
provides for a beneficial reuse of materials and an upland placement site for sediments
that otherwise might end up in the ocean, Steinberg said. A bulkhead and an
unloading and processing facility for the dredged materials will be constructed at the
junction of Berrys Creek and the Hackensack River and will be part of Phase One
EnCap is pleased to be named the developer of this important brownfield redevelopment project, said Bill Gauger, President, EnCap Golf Holdings, LLC. This project fits directly into our corporate mission of being a leading landfill redeveloper in the United States, and we believe that it will be one of the most renowned brownfield transformation projects in the nation.
Governor Whitmans proactive policies in brownfield redevelopment and open space initiatives have put New Jersey on the map nationally in this important public policy area and this project is a direct result of Governor Whitmans enlightened policies, Gauger said. We hope this project will be an inspiration for others to redevelop landfills and further the great game of golf.
Building golf courses on landfills is not a new concept, as there are over 60 landfill golf courses throughout the US. These courses have an established track record of being commercial successes and being safe for the general public, Gauger said.
EnCap Golf was formed for the
specific purpose of transforming closed landfills and other brownfield properties into
golf courses using environmentally sensitive methods. Noted British golf course
designer Roy Case has been named the designer of the first 18 holes of the Meadowlands
golf courses. Mr. Case recently designed the nationally noted New Jersey National
golf course, which is adjacent to the USGAs headquarters in Far Hills, New Jersey.
Meadowlands resort dream taking shape
Sunday, May 6, 2001
By HUGH R. MORLEY
Like the king of the hill, Bill Gauger stood atop a 100-foot high trash mountain in North Arlington and laid out his vision for a chunk of the Meadowlands below.
A light wind billowed through the dry swamp grass as Gauger, the president of developer EnCap Golf Inc., sketched out the company's $1 billion plan to transform the mess of disjointed trash heaps, industrial debris, and swamps into a golfers' paradise and more.
Here would be a marina. There a hotel and offices. Here he would demolish 10 electricity pylons at a cost of $2 million, just because they ruin the view. There he would move three radio towers -- at a cost of $5 million -- and build train stations, hotels, a holiday village.
"Just imagine people flying over," Gauger said one recent morning. "This is the main entry corridor for people coming into Newark. Imagine seeing 1,200 acres here of green open space -- of golf course holes. It'll change the whole perception of what we have here."
If Gauger sounds giddy with excitement, he is not alone. Since the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission announced its plan last May to turn six old landfills into a top-of-the-line golf resort, Bergen County officials, too, have seemed downright euphoric about the proposal.
If all goes as planned, the Meadowlands by 2010 will be host to something akin to a golfers' Disneyland -- with 72 holes of golf, two hotels, boating and equestrian facilities, and a conference center -- all within easy access of New York City.
But some officials, while supportive of the plan, are skeptical -- worried that Gauger's alchemist-like promise to turn trash into treasure is almost too good to be true.
What happens to the plan if the economy tanks, they wonder? Can EnCap really raise the extraordinary amounts of money needed to pull it off? And will the company be able to secure the permits to develop around an environmentally sensitive area?
"It sounds like a wonderful fantasy . . . a Utopian vision for south Bergen," said Freeholder Chairman Doug Bern. "But there is a big gap between talking about the concept and actually implementing it."
To project boosters, however, these concerns are no more than modest obstacles. At a stroke, they say, the plan could turn the decades-old problem of smelly, toxic, and ugly trash fields into a commercial boom zone while preserving what's left of the precious environment around it, including the broad scenic vistas of Manhattan.
And, as outlined by state and EnCap officials, most of the project would be privately funded.
"This is like your wildest dreams," North Arlington Mayor Len Kaiser said. "Hand to God! Sometimes I take pause and say, 'Am I dreaming? Or is it something that's being proposed?' "
In addition, the project could bail the county out of its long and troubled tenure in the trash business by helping to pay off nearly $100 million in debts held by the Bergen County Utilities Authority.
With the debt erased, the county could close its North Arlington Transfer Station, which now must remain open to raise revenue to pay the debt. The county could then withdraw from the solid waste business and lease the transfer station to EnCap for use in its project.
That scenario, however, requires that the BCUA find enough money to pay off the debt -- which is by no means certain. HMDC documents obtained by The Record this year outlined a preliminary plan to repay the debt. According to the plan, EnCap would pay $26 million, and the BCUA would contribute $38 million. In addition, there would be $10 million from funds held by the HMDC to pay for landfill closure and $7 million from a county recycling program. The HMDC and state combined would pay $13 million.
HMDC and county officials have declined to comment on the funding because they are still negotiating with the state over its share of the project.
If the $100 million cannot be raised and the transfer station is not closed, EnCap would have to scale back the project. Gauger, however, is unperturbed.
His Tampa, Fla.-based company would not have spent $4 million already just to research and plan the project if it was not confident of pulling it off, he said.
Besides, "We're going to offer a unique product that's going to have a lot of demand and appeal," said Gauger, 40. "I don't know too many golf courses that have views of Manhattan . . . There is nothing like this in the entire world!"
A $1 billion golf, hotel, office project
On a recent tour of the site -- as he uttered a string of observations that mostly concluded with the exclamation "Spectacular!" -- Gauger offered the most detailed outline to date of the tentatively titled Meadowlands Golf Resort and Village Project.
The complex would have two entrances -- one off a Route 3 service road in Rutherford and one on Belleville Turnpike in North Arlington. It would cover nearly 1,000 acres of landfills in Rutherford, Lyndhurst, and North Arlington as well as marshlands on the Hackensack River.
The project is designed in two phases. If the first goes ahead as planned, the company expects to move on to the second.
Included in the Phase One plans, at a cost of $1 billion, are:
A 400-room, four- or five-star hotel adjacent to a 750,000 square foot office.
Resort village with a landscaped square, five to 10 restaurants and, 10 to 15 boutiques.
Conference center adjacent to a 250-room hotel and spa.
Two new train stations, one on the Bergen County Line and the other on the Main Line, to bring in workers to the offices and golfers to the resort. EnCap says it will fund one station and hopes to get state money to build the second.
Two golf courses; at least one would be a public and charge about $100 a round. Plans also call for a driving range and a golf school.
A marina on the Hackensack River with dry dock storage for 200 or more boats.
A 1,400-room holiday time-share complex.
Phase Two would cost an additional $200 million to $300 million. Included would be:
Two additional golf courses.
An equestrian center and sports complex, which might include ice skating, roller skating, tennis, or an indoor swimming center.
EnCap officials estimate that if all goes according to plan, the company will begin sealing the first three landfills at the end of this year. About 18 months later, construction would start on the hotels and offices.
The company expects the first hole to be played in 2005, with other parts of the project unfolding in the following years.
Sticking to the schedule, however, will require deft maneuvering through a number of project hurdles. One step that bogs down many projects is the state's environmental permitting process.
But HMDC and EnCap officials say the state Department of Environmental Protection has been briefed on the project throughout the planning process and supports it.
"We feel its a good initiative," said Bruce Witkowski, a supervisor in the DEP division of solid and hazardous waste. "It will get some landfills closed and we will get some recreational use out of it, too." Witkowski said he anticipates the project will be looked on favorably when EnCap applies for permits. HMDC Executive Director Alan Steinberg said the project will require state permits for waterfront development and landfill closure.
The HMDC has final say on zoning and planning issues in the Meadowlands.
"There's no doubt whatsoever" that EnCap will get HMDC approval, Steinberg said.
In March, EnCap was granted a waterfront development permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to cover the small amount of wetlands that will be touched by the project, Gauger said. Getting the approval was easier than for other Meadowlands projects, Gauger said, because the wetlands had already been contaminated by garbage dumping.
As far as funding, Gauger said EnCap has overcome the most difficult task -- securing the first 20 percent of the project cost from willing investors. He said he is confident the company will be able to raise the remaining funds, because he has already gotten significant interest from venture partners looking to develop the hotels, offices, and other buildings at their own expense.
Conservationists resigned to plan
County Executive William "Pat" Schuber, for one, is convinced the company has a good chance of success.
"Is there risk? Yes, there is risk," he said. "But this is a case where I don't necessarily think there's a lot to lose. What you've got now is a dump. Anything that they are starting to do is an improvement."
But that attitude is not shared by local conservationists, who worry that development will damage wetlands. They would rather see the upland landfills turned into a forested, natural habitat where birds, opossums, skunks, and other wildlife can live.
"Golf courses are nice," said Capt. Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper. "But it's more overdevelopment of the Meadowlands. We've already got way too much development."
Nevertheless, he and other environmentalists -- mindful of the fact that leachate is steadily seeping from the landfills into the Meadowlands waterways -- seem grudgingly resigned to the project.
"We've got to bite the bullet and get the landfills capped," Sheehan said. "The landfills are poisoning the area."
The project is one of the latest in a growing number of proposals and developments around the country that have seized on closed landfills to combat a shortage of space, especially around cities.
In New Jersey, two other landfill-based golf courses are planned or under construction. One is planned for 179 acres of landfill in Egg Harbor Township just outside Atlantic City. An 18-hole course is under way on a 70-acre municipal landfill and adjoining brownfields property in Bayonne.
"It's the wave of the future," Witkowski said. "It seems like all of a sudden everybody got an idea to build golf courses on a landfill."
Yet on the national stage, there have been similar projects for years. Gauger said he knows of 63 golf courses built on landfills, the first of which was probably at Brooklyn's Marine Park, built in 1963. At present, golf courses are planned or under construction in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Detroit, with two more in the works for Houston, according to published reports.
In most cases, the transformation from trash field to links is a complicated, time-consuming, and expensive process. The landfill must be left to settle for about a decade, shaped, and implanted with a piping system to siphon off the methane or other gases given off by the decaying trash. After that, the trash is covered with plastic sheeting or impermeable clay.
A drainage ditch is then dug along the perimeter to catch the leachate or contaminated water that seeps out. And the garbage-filled mound is overlaid with soil on which grass and trees are planted and bunkers and ponds carved.
Because most of the Meadowlands landfills stopped accepting trash around 1970 -- several decades after they opened -- the settling period is already over. Only the 1E landfill in North Arlington shut down for business less than a decade ago, with parts of it remaining open until 1997, HMDC officials said. But EnCap officials say it will likely be ready for development in less than a decade after closing, because the most recent dumping was of construction material, which needs less time to settle than household trash.
Developer confident of financial backing
The logic of sticking fairways and greens on fouled land -- especially close to urban areas -- is not difficult to understand given the surging demand for golf courses in areas with few large, developable tracts. Bergen County, for instance, has long sought to meet what officials say is a chronic shortage of golf courses. The efforts have been stymied by a lack of open space.
"Our feasibility [study] tells us that there is a demand for something in the order of 60 to 100 golf courses in the metropolitan area," Gauger said. "There's demand but you can't have the supply because there's not enough land. Golf courses take a huge amount of property."
And in most urban areas, any developable property has invariably been taken or is too highly priced, he said.
"If this wasn't a landfill, this wouldn't be golf," Gauger said simply. "This would be a housing development here, office buildings."
EnCap's first venture into the transformation of waste sites was in creating one of the landfill-based golf courses under construction in Houston. Set to open late this year, the $25 million project will provide 36 holes on 450 acres of a former oilfield near the Astrodome and includes what visitors describe as some of the most elevated, striking views of the city.
EnCap grew out of a three-year-old investment bank -- Environmental Capital International of Florida. Specializing in the development of brownfields, ECI has loaned or invested more than $300 million over the years, mostly to gas station owners who have to clean up their property. EnCap takes the process one step further -- it carries out remediation projects instead of merely funding them.
HMDC Chief Alan Steinberg and EnCap officials brush off doubts as to whether the company can pull off the Meadowlands project by citing the strength of EnCap's financial backers.
The founder and largest investor in both ECI and EnCap is Louis L. Gonda, a Beverly Hills real estate billionaire who last year was ranked 129 among Forbes' 400 richest people in America.
Another investor in the project, Denver-based Cherokee Investment Partners, offers a resume that includes funding environmental remediation projects valued at $300 million, including the Bayonne landfill-to-links project. The company calls itself the "largest brownfield investment fund and the largest provider of environmental insurance for brownfields in the world."
EnCap got involved in the Meadowlands when it was one of eight companies that responded to an effort by the HMDC in 1999 to find a developer willing to convert three, 30-foot-high landfills in Rutherford and Lyndhurst into a golf course.
EnCap was selected. But the company's plan changed when Gauger happened to walk one day to the top of the 100-foot high Kingsland Landfill in adjacent North Arlington and was stunned by the views of Manhattan and Newark. Immediately, he said, he saw the possibilities of creating a far larger project.
One reason, he said, is what golfers call the "viewshed" -- or the scenery around them while they are swinging.
"The viewshed is spectacular," he said.
But the economics of the project also made it necessary to include more development, Gauger said. With EnCap expecting to spend between $75 million and $100 million on capping and sealing the landfills, new revenue streams are needed to bring in funding, Gauger said.
"Golf courses don't pay for
it," Gauger said. "You've got to have office space, you've got to have hotels,
you've got to have timeshare, those kinds of things.You've got to have a resort
From landfills to links
As urban land runs out, landfills offer potential sites for golf courses and other development close to downtowns. EnCap Golf of Tampa is struggling to turn its expertise in environmental issues and golf courses into a profitable business.
By KYLE PARKS © St. Petersburg Times, published April 16, 2001
NORTH ARLINGTON, N.J. -- Pieces of the old Penn Station are buried here. According to local legend, so is Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa.
But if Tampa developer Bill Gauger succeeds, the six landfills around New Jersey's Meadowlands marshes soon will be known for something else.
Gauger's dream: Turn these hills of trash 5 miles west of Manhattan into a 1,200-acre resort with 72 holes of golf, two hotels, office buildings, a marina and timeshare condominiums.
It's a pricey and risky proposition. His company, EnCap Golf, must spend more than $100-million to get the landfill ready for construction. The project is expected to cost close to $1-billion.
"It's worth all the trouble because of the location," Gauger said. "How else could you get a site for a golf course where you can see the Manhattan skyline?"
Landfill golf is suddenly one of the hottest ideas in the commercial real estate industry. More than 60 landfill courses have been built over the years, including Mangrove Bay in St. Petersburg. Now, the pace is picking up.
Thanks to better technology, pipe systems do a more efficient job of collecting methane gas and the contaminated liquid that seeps out of landfills. New types of insurance give landfill developers more protection from lawsuits. And as urban land runs out, landfills offer affordable golf course sites close to downtowns.
Still, there are plenty of risks. Capping a landfill is a complicated, expensive proposition. With higher development costs, Gauger has less margin for error. And his courses face a major marketing challenge: convincing golfers that a former landfill won't smell or have slime oozing around their shoes.
EnCap Golf has yet to make money, and success in the Meadowlands will be crucial when it tries to get the capital it needs to take its ideas national.
Gauger is confident he can pull it off.
"We see this as a great business to be in for the next 20 or 30 years," he said.
* * *
There aren't many ways to use an old landfill. Around the United States, there are more than 14,000 brownfields, polluted sites that are capable of being used again. Many have sat vacant for years.
Putting buildings on top of the deepest areas of landfills usually is prohibitively expensive. To make it work, a developer drives support pilings through the landfill to the soil below.
"That's like building a bridge over the water," said Larry Thomas, director of golf operations for Pinellas County.
There are a few places, such as a Home Depot in San Rafael, Calif., where the location is so good that it makes sense to build that way. That store, outside San Francisco, required 750 pilings at an average depth of 175 feet. The extra cost: about $2-million.
Also, some areas of a landfill drop dramatically as trash decomposes. At the Mountain Gate Country Club in Los Angeles, some sections have settled as much as 50 feet over the past 15 years. At golf courses, workers fill in and resod them.
Some landfills have been turned into parks, but those don't bring in much revenue. That's an issue because upkeep of a closed landfill can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
That leaves golf an increasingly popular option. The Willowhill Golf Course in Chicago is atop a landfill, as are the TPC at Eagle Trace in Coral Springs and part of Tampa's Rogers Park course.
In Pinellas County, officials are talking about turning the 240-acre Toytown landfill off Interstate 275 into a course with as many as 27 holes.
Gauger might be interested in developing Toytown, but for now, the Meadowlands project is consuming him. As the plans take shape, EnCap Golf figures it will put the offices, hotels and condos on areas where the trash is not piled as high.
The top priority in the project is to make sure contamination is contained.
A landfill gives off large amounts of flammable methane gas, which can be a safety threat. "If the gas isn't collected and someone lights a match -- boom," Gauger said.
Also, water percolating through the trash layer at the site creates contaminated runoff called leachate.
To counter the problems, companies such as EnCap Golf build extensive pipe systems under and around the landfills. One system collects methane gas; another sucks up leachate.
Also, a layer of protective material, either a plastic liner or clay, is put in the soil to keep most water from entering the trash layer.
Then there's the hassle of building the course.
"In most golf courses, they cut into the ground, move the dirt and mound it," Gauger said. "But with a landfill, you can't cut into the cap. The shaping has to be done with material from off-site."
At a $25-million course in Houston, the company's first landfill project, EnCap Golf underestimated how much dirt it would need to bring in. It was a costly mistake, putting the company about $2-million over budget.
"You can expect 5 to 10 percent cost overruns on a project," Gauger said. "But we'll have to watch that because when the costs are higher, it takes even longer to recoup your investment."
* * *
From the highest point, 135 feet up, the view from the Meadowlands landfills is spectacular, in a gritty urban sort of way.
Look east and it seems the Manhattan skyline is right in front of you. As you turn, you can see downtown Newark, then Giants Stadium.
One New Jersey official calls the area an "urban wilderness"; another, the "Everglades of the North." Waterways branching off the Hackensack River wind for several miles, offering a home for herons, sandpipers and more than 50 types of fish.
Its redevelopment has been entrusted to EnCap Golf, a relatively tiny company that competed with more than 12 other developers, including a representative of Donald Trump, Gauger says.
The Tampa company's advantage, according to Meadowlands officials: It specializes in landfill golf; the other bidders concentrate on landfill development or golf, not both.
Also, Gauger's educational pedigree (a degree in economics from Cornell and a master's in business administration from Duke) and experience in dealing with environmental issues helped New Jersey officials overcome the perception that he was some hick from Tampa. After initially working as a commercial banking executive for NationsBank in Tampa, Gauger went out on his own in 1990 and became involved in environmental cleanups. In addition to EnCap Golf, Gauger has a venture, Environmental Capital International, that funds companies that do cleanups.
The Meadowlands project is crucial as EnCap Golf works to gain respectability.
The company plans to finish its first project, the 450-acre landfill golf course near downtown Houston, this fall. And once Gauger gets plans for the Meadowlands project in shape, which will take at least six more months, he will consider sites in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans.
But until its initial projects are finished, and revenues start coming in, EnCap Golf has to keep its staff lean. About 60 people work full time for EnCap, while day-to-day management is handled by Gauger, the president, and senior vice president Jim Hockensmith.
So far, EnCap Golf has been funded by Cherokee Investment Partners, a Raleigh, N.C., real estate investment trust that specializes in development of brownfields. Gauger will not say how much Cherokee has invested in his privately held company.
EnCap Golf hasn't decided yet whether it will build the Meadowlands project itself, including the offices, condos and hotels. While it considers bring in partners, it also is working on getting other financing to supplement Cherokee's funding, Gauger said.
Another way to raise capital would be to sell the resort after it's finished, but Gauger says it is too early to know if EnCap Golf will do that.
For the intense Gauger, the pressure of such a massive project takes a toll.
Until he cut back a bit recently, Gauger was working 70 to 80 hours a week, often from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. He spends as many as three days a week in New Jersey, while his wife and three children remain in Tampa.
During a recent trip to the Meadowlands, he spent one morning grilling two New York architects who didn't share his vision for the office buildings. They offered an 1800s feel; Gauger wants a modern look but with classic architectural lines.
Later, he worked through plans to move several radio towers out of the way of the golf course.
"I do need to relax more, but it's hard," he said, riding in a taxi heading to dinner in Manhattan. On top of everything else, he's been dealing with problems related to an irregular heartbeat.
"There are so many things, from the design to everything else, that require me to be there," he said. "A developer can't leave decisions to someone else and just hope things come out okay."
* * *
EnCap Golf couldn't pull off these landfill developments without good deals on the land and some tax incentives. "We couldn't make the numbers work otherwise," Gauger said.
The company plans to develop only sites where the owner has done much of the environmental cleanup work, as was the case in Houston, or where tax incentives help cover the cost.
At the Meadowlands, Gauger estimates that EnCap Golf can expect to get back 50 cents for every dollar it spends on capping the landfills. As businesses on the site pay their state taxes, a cut will go to EnCap Golf over a 15-year period.
Another incentive: EnCap Golf gets its landfill sites for next to nothing. At the Meadowlands, for instance, it's paying $1,000 annually for a 99-year lease. Landfill owners are happy to offer such deals, because upkeep can cost $250,000 or more a year.
Still, this endeavor is no sure thing.
The amount of upfront money required for the Meadowlands project is daunting: The cleanup will cost $100-million. Building the golf courses will cost $60-million. Then there's the cost of the hotels, office buildings, marina and condos, totaling $810-million.
The total cost: $970-million.
Once it's finished, the resort would offer people from Manhattan a place to play golf just a short train ride from the city.
"We'll make our money when the project goes vertical beyond the golf," Gauger said. "What makes money in a golf course development isn't the golf itself as much as the property on it and around it."
* * *
The move to turn the Meadowlands landfills into golf courses has met with little opposition from the community. Homeowners who look over trash heaps like the idea of seeing their views turned into golf course frontage.
"This could go a long way to stopping all the jokes about this part of New Jersey," said Alan Steinberg, executive director of the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission, which is leasing the property to EnCap Golf.
Not everyone is thrilled.
"I'd say it's a missed opportunity," said Beatrice Bernzott, a New Jersey environmental activist. "Instead, the state could have saved the habitat for the birds and other wildlife."
But even critics say a golf course is more aesthetically pleasing than, say, a shopping center. And with strict regulations spelling out how to deal with the contamination, that hasn't been an issue.
If everything goes as planned, Gauger hopes to have the Meadowlands' first course open by July 2004, with the second course opening a year later.
Gauger sometimes has sleepless nights, worrying about some Meadowlands detail he might have forgotten. The sense of urgency comes with his role on the leading edge of a new industry.
Insurers such as AIG offer policies that give developers better protection against contamination liability if they follow regulations. That means more developers soon may be getting into the business.
"Landfill golf courses are less risky for developers than they used to be," Gauger said.
"Of course, we don't want it to be too easy. We're gaining some unique knowledge on how to do this."