When the first sod was laid on Donald Trump’s billion-dollar championship golf resort in Scotland last April, few people could have predicted that less than a year later the whole project would be under threat.
The flamboyant American billionaire has publicly stated his intention of building “the greatest golf course in the world” on a stretch of protected sand dunes on the Aberdeenshire coast near Menie.
After a five-year planning battle to face down the objections of local campaigners and environmental groups, Trump himself cut the ribbon to start construction work in June 2010 – and progress since then has been swift.
The 18-hole championship links course, designed by leading golf architect Dr. Martin Hawtree, will open in mid-2012.
But the accompanying hotel and leisure resort, nearly 1,500 holiday homes and houses plus a second course have been put on hold because of plans by a leading renewable energy supplier, Vattenfall, to build 11 giant wind turbines about a mile and a half (2 km) off the coast from Trump’s land.
He has reacted furiously by threatening to mothball the project, and reportedly donated £10 million ($15.9 million) to an anti-wind farm group, Communities against Turbines Scotland.
Caught in the middle of the verbal crossfire is Scotland’s political leader Alex Salmond, who has boasted that the country will generate all its electricity demands from renewables by 2020.
The First Minister, who is the Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) for the area that covers the Aberdeenshire course, has supported the Trump project because of the jobs and economic regeneration it promises to bring.
But his views on the wind farm application, which will be ruled on by a governmental body called Marine Scotland, have yet to be made public. Salmond’s office told CNN that he could not comment, but issued the following statement.
“An application for consent for the European Offshore Wind Deployment Center was submitted to Marine Scotland on 2 August 2011 and is still under consideration. We have a target of determining applications in nine months from receipt and we are currently considering the views of consultees, interested parties, and the public.”
But Trump clearly believes Salmond is sympathetic to the application and launched a verbal broadside in a letter dated February 9, 2012 in which he claimed that subsidizing wind farm projects would “destroy Scotland and its economy.”
“You seem hell-bent on destroying Scotland’s coastline and Scotland itself,” it read. “With this reckless installation of these monsters, you will have single-handedly done more damage to Scotland than any event in its history.”
Promises not kept?
George Sorial, Trump’s attorney, told CNN that his boss was so angry because he believes the Scottish authorities had not kept to promises made back in 2006.
“We were consistently told that there would not be wind turbines in this area of the coastline,” he said.
Salmond’s Scottish National Party was not in power back in 2006, but Lewis MacDonald, a senior member of the then ruling Labour Party, said he believed no such undertakings were given by its First Minister Jack McConnell.
MacDonald is also an MSP for the Aberdeenshire region, and until recently was shadow minister for energy.
Like political adversary Salmond, he supported the Trump project, but believes the tycoon is misguided in his opposition to the turbines.
“It would be a great shame if the development did not go ahead,” he told CNN. “The fact you are an interested party in one planning application does not give you a veto over another.
“Offshore wind development has great economic potential for Scotland and will help shift the emphasis from oil and gas to renewables over the coming generations.”
Finding a compromise
David Rodger, a spokesman for Vattenfall, which has been given €40 million ($54 million) by the European Union to fund its project, is urging Trump’s team to compromise.
“Our point of view is that both these projects can exist in harmony,” Rodger told CNN. “This project has been no secret and has been six years in development. It will test the next generation of off-shore wind turbines and would be a world first.
“We have been involved a close dialogue with all stakeholders and believe we have found the best site for the project.”
None of this washes with Sorial, who is adamant that whatever Marine Scotland’s decision, the Trump team will fight on.
“It’s a war of attrition and we are in a superior position,” he said.
MacDonald said there are few avenues of appeal in the event of Vattenfall’s application being given the go-head by Marine Scotland.
“Vattenfall have already made significant steps to accommodate other users and reduce the scale of the wind farm, they cannot be criticized for not responding to concerns,” he said.
But Trump, who counts some of the most powerful men in the world as his acquaintances, is not used to losing a battle and is appealing to the country’s political leader to use his influence.
“Please understand, I am doing this to save Scotland, and honor my mother, Mary MacLeod, who as you know was born and raised in Stornoway. She would not believe what you are doing to her beloved Scotland!” Trump signed off his letter to Salmond.
By the time Trump comes to northern Scotland in June to open his championship links, the result of Vattenfall’s planning application will be known.
What happens next will be anyone’s guess, but for now Trump’s planned $1.2 billion investment appears in the balance and has left Salmond, who is renowned as being “canny,” with a difficult dilemma.
And in a sign that Trump may be turning his attentions elsewhere, his organization announced it would be buying the famous Doral Resort & Spa in Florida out of bankruptcy for $150 million.
The 800-acre resort complex – which hosts the 2012 edition of the WGC-Cadillac Championship in early March – includes four golf courses, 700 hotel rooms across 10 lodges and a range of other retail and leisure facilities.
It has been in bankruptcy since early 2011 after the property market turned sour in the United States.
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