City money will help pay for artificial turf fields

Despite passionate opposition from environmentalists, legal threats and the city’s financial troubles, the City Council on Wednesday voted to contribute more than a quarter of a million dollars to the construction of artificial turf fields at Battle Point Park.

“When you vote for this, you can’t get rid of it or cover it up. You can’t get rid of it because it’s plastic,” said artificial turf opponent Chris Van Dyk. “It’s environmentally irresponsible.”

With only Council Chairman Bill Knobloch voting against the spending proposal, the council approved handing $300,000 to the Bainbridge park district to replace two existing soccer fields. The park district plans to install artificial turf on what is now largely hard-packed sand, improving the field’s playing conditions and reducing the amount of maintenance a natural grass field would otherwise require.

“This is a very difficult question,” said Councilman Barry Peters, noting environmental concerns and recent city revenue shortfalls that have led to service and project cuts. But the council “made a promise to these folks that want this field. It may be passionately opposed by some, but it’s passionately supported by many.”

The 1,200-member Bainbridge Island Youth Soccer Club, which has lobbied for the field upgrades, applauded the council action. The club has long struggled to provide enough fields for the island’s growing number of soccer players.

Club president John Sloat said artificial fields can withstand about six times the use of a grass field, allowing teams to play year-round and in poor weather.

Peters noted that artificial turf may be the most environmentally sound option because it requires no watering or fertilizers, “which causes Puget Sound to suffer from excess nutrients,” he said.

But turf opponent Sally Adams contends that the artificial turf can harm ground water and pollute the Sound with plastic and rubber-derived chemicals.

The city’s support for the fields, she warned, “will expose the city to an untold number of lawsuits.”
In an effort to cushion the city from legal danger, the council deleted wording in the spending agreement that specified materials used for the fields.

“We’re supporting a sports field,” said Councilwoman Debbie Vancil, who proposed the word change. “We’re not approving a special kind of material.”

While supporting the measure, Councilman Kjell Stoknes said the council was “punting the issue” and directing environmentalists’ ire toward the park district.

“We all know what they’re going to do with that money,” he said. “Our eyes are wide open on what’s going to happen.”

Stoknes’ proposal requiring mitigation if the fields cause environmental damage failed to gain council support.

Knobloch also found no backers for a proposal withholding approval until a groundwater impact assessment is completed.

Vancil said the council should leave the environmental questions to scientists.

“I’m not a scientist. I do not know which material is best to use,” she said. “I do know about supporting soccer players and I will support soccer players.”

Improved soccer fields are long overdue, she added.

“My children played on those fields 26 years ago and my grandchildren have played on the fields, (yet) nothing has changed on those fields,” she said. “The condition of the fields is a travesty.”