In 2006, businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump bought an 1,800-acre estate in Scotland’s northeast, near Aberdeen. It was beautiful, with views of the North Sea and surrounding sand dunes.
Then he announced plans to build a golf course. In true Trump style, he promised the world. He envisioned a grand complex with two world-class golf courses, a luxury hotel and 1,450 homes on the property. It would be, he said, a $1.5 billion investment.
But then came a string of setbacks: The 2008 financial crisis roiled Trump’s businesses, forcing him to delay or cancel a number of projects. The local planning commission called his Scottish proposal “extremely implausible” and refused to support it. Recalcitrant neighbors would not surrender their land.
Eventually, though, the Trump Organization broke ground.
So far, the Trump International Golf Links complex hasn’t lived up to Trump’s vision. There is only one golf course, which by many accounts is rarely busy. Instead of a gigantic hotel and pricey stretch of homes, there’s a single clubhouse with a few rooms for rent. Just 150 permanent jobs have been created, rather than the promised thousands. Corporate filings in Britain show that the course lost $1.8 million in 2015.
Experts say that to make serious money, Trump needs the hotel and developments he promised. But it’s been hard to get those projects launched.
And this week, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage, a conservation agency, made things even harder. Both groups are objecting to the Trump Organization’s expansion plan unless significant changes are made. Officials say the current plan breaches strict rules on sewage, environmental protection and groundwater conservation.
Their concerns are myriad. SNH says there is “substantial risk” that significant parts of the course could be damaged by drifting dunes, which happened at Trump’s already-built course in Scotland – Turnberry, on the west coast – in 2016. SEPA objects to the Trump Organization’s use of a “soakaway” (basically, a pit filled with rubble) to dispose of waste water, and it wants the company to connect the course and clubhouse to the public sewage system before building the second course. The agency also worries that the current irrigation plan could contaminate local water supplies. SEPA wants the company to pay to use public water supplies instead.
Local officials also want Trump to make good on his promise to build hundreds of affordable housing units and a school.
Trump International Golf Links did not respond to a request for comment. But Eric Trump, tasked with overseeing the Trump Organization while his father serves as president, recently visited and suggested that things are moving along.
“We have huge plans for future investment. We have a lot of things planned,” the younger Trump told the Press and Journal. “We have the potential for a second course. We have tremendous opportunities for residential and hospitality that we are able to do.”
This isn’t the first time his father has tangled with the Scots. In 2012, Trump tried to scuttle a wind farm project that would, he said, ruin his course’s view. At the time, he threatened to pull out of the country. “I have spent close to 100 million pounds at this stage,” Trump said. “I have millions more to put into that site, but I will not invest another penny if an industrial plant is built nearby.”
The wind farm got built. And Trump is still there.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Amanda Erickson