Passionate public turns out on both sides of proposed synthetic field
Controversy raged Thu May 19 over a proposal to install a synthetic turf field at Aldrich Lane in the Mattituck (NY) Park District.
The matter, which brought a crowd to the Mattituck Park District meeting Thursday night at the Veterans Park office on Peconic Bay Boulevard in Mattituck, has ignited heated controversy, with many residents opposed to the plan or requesting additional information.
“This is becoming quite controversial, due to the cost, as well as environmental and health hazards,” Mattituck resident and Southold Democratic Committee chair Art Tillman has said in recent weeks. The synthetic turf, he said, is not ecologically friendly to local waters and could potentially cause “various health problems. Youngsters throughout Southold play on these fields.”
Mattituck Park District Commissioner Nick Deegan is also opposed to the plan. “It’s not fair to the taxpayers, to be saddled with this. We’re a small district,” he said. “It’s much better economically to restore what’s there and move forward.”
Mattituck Park District Commissioner Mike Ryan, who has done research into the plan and led Thursday night’s presentation, has said he’s a proponent of the synthetic turf for a number of reasons.
First, he told Patch recently, the park district has a “surplus of money” that needs to be spent, and the park district has a “responsibility” to give residents the best possible field.
Recently, some property was sold, leading to the influx of funding, and the park district has exhausted other improvements, with $1 million spent on Veterans Park upgrades. In addition, plans are in place for a new pavilion at Breakwater Beach, hopefully to be built this summer, he said.
The district, he said, has three athletic parks, on Bay Avenue, Peconic Bay Avenue, and Aldrich Lane, with the highest demand at the Aldrich Lane facility, mainly due to the explosion in growth in the soccer and lacrosse programs. That’s why the Aldrich Lane park is the natural fit for the turf field, he said.
Mattituck, he said, is the “central base for all lacrosse” on the North Fork; there are six youth school teams, three boys’ and three girls’; there are also seven school soccer teams, as well as 13 youth lacrosse clubs in Mattituck and the same number of youth soccer clubs, “all playing out of Mattituck,” he said. “There’s a huge demand for field space.”
Ryan feels strongly that there’s an obligation to ease some of the burden on the school district, which recently just installed a new track.
A similar synthetic field has been proposed for the bond improvement project at the Southold school district, he added.
In addition, Ryan said, the field is already illuminated, which helps a great deal to extend programs through the winter. “To me, it’s logical for this type of surface to be installed, and we have the money,” Ryan said.
But, he added, “I will insist that this go to public referendum so the voters get a chance to decide the state of our park.”
As for health concerns, Ryan said he’s done research and said there is no “scientific basis” for concerns related to crumb-rubber fill in turf.”That’s unproven,” he said.
Natural grass, Deegan counters, “is a much better environment for the kids to be playing on.”
A synthetic field, Deegan added, would require yearly maintenance costs, as well.
Thursday night’s meeting draws crowd
A passionate crowd packed the room Thursday night as Ryan led his presentation. He asked those in attendance to be respectful. “This is an informational meeting, not a public debate.”
Ryan said much money has been invested in Veterans Park, including in the building where the meeting was held. Aldrich Lane, he said, has just one field. That field is in a fenced in area with lights, which lends itself to a facility that can be used year round, and not just six months per field, as the natural grass field is now.
The field could also be used from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., he said.
“We have an obligation to invest proceeds” from public-supported referendums on property sales, he said, such as the recent sale of the Pike Street parking lot to Southold Town.
Of the district’s three fields, Aldrich Lane is the “most used,” with more than 250 kids playing there, he said.
“In this instance, turf makes sense,” he said.
A grass field, Ryan said, is a lateral move and “not worth the investment.”
Grass fields, he added, need multiple areas to rotate, “a luxury we do not have.” To invest in grass and sod would mean potentially fewer hours of use. “It’s the equivalent of adding on a formal dining room, with china, that you would use only for Sunday dinner.”
The field is currently closed for two months in the summer and three and a half in the winter, he said; there is also a loss of two to three weeks due to rain each year. If the move was made to turf, the potential would be expanded to 12 months per year.
With more youth activities and training year round, “it’s all about training, giving kids the competitive edge,” he said.
Ryan said the turf field would also be “consistently safe,” with a level playing surface and better shock absorption.
Currently, there are areas on the grass field, such as where the goalie plays, where the grass is worn away, and where the ground is hard and dangerous to a child in a fall, he said.
A majority of the Mattituck Park District’s board of commissioners, Ryan said, has voted to move forward with the referendum. The investment of approximately $800,000 would mean money upfront, but would reduce maintenance costs yearly and would result in a revenue stream and an increase in payable hours, so the field would ultimately pay for itself, he said.
A natural field, he said, would cost, at a reasonable estimate, between $250,000 and $500,000, depending on site work and soil samples. In the case of Aldrich Lane, Ryan said, the site work costs would be considerable, including new irrigation and drainage.
The proposed synthetic field has a warranty of eight years but would likely last 10 to 15 years, he said.
Advantages would include less labor for maintenance, no irrigation, pesticides or mowing; a turf field would not be closed down for maintenance or rainy weather, he said.
Also, Ryan said, a favorable G-Max rating would mean that the fillable synthetic field would reduce the risk of concussions.
A brand new sod field’s projected annual maintenance cost would be $33,000 per year, but a turf field would cost $6,700 annually.
Those numbers, Deegan interjected, were “erroneous”.
Rental feels, Ryan said, at $100 per hour, would mean an annual income of $30,000, or $450,000 in 15 years.
The field, he said, could be used not only for soccer and lacrosse, but also for camps, NJROTC, and T-ball. “It’s a clean, level, multi-purpose surface,” he said.
The cost to replace the field after it ages out would be $600,000, with monies set aside annually, he said.
To proceed with the project, park district residents would vote on a referendum to bond for $350,000, with $450,000 used from reserves. He’d like to see the vote in August, Ryan said.
The approximate bond cost for 3,081 households would be $12 annually or $1 per month, he said.
One resident asked if Ryan had gotten written opinion for bond counsel that the district could bond for something that exceeded the probable usefulness or life of the project.
Cutchogue resident Abigail Field, who said she does not live in Mattituck but who has young children who would play on the field, said bonding costs, including cost of bonds and interest, should be included in projected costs.