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Mattituck Park District commissioners, residents debate synthetic turf field proposal for Aldrich Lane

Mattituck Parks District Commissioner Mike Ryan wants to install a synthetic turf multipurpose field at the Aldrich Lane site. Photo: Peter Blasl

A synthetic turf multipurpose field should be put installed at the Mattituck Park District’s Aldrich Lane site, according to park district co-chairman Michael Ryan.

It would be a costly undertaking. An 80,000-square-foot turf field would likely cost upwards of $750,000 to buy and install.

Ryan says the lacrosse and soccer programs using the Aldrich Lane fields require more play area and the soccer field there requires renovation. He says the district has reinvested money in other facilities — including “hundreds of thousands of dollars in Veterans Park” — and it’s time to bring the fields “into the 21st century with a durable, safe environment.”

The idea has at least one district commissioner fired up in opposition. Commissioner Nicholas Deegan says the district’s money would be better spent installing a new grass field and completing a laundry list of tasks that need to be done — everything from re-coating tennis courts and repairing parking lots to a building addition for bathrooms at the Aldrich Lane site.

“We have lots of places to spend this money,” Deegan said at last night’s park district meeting. The list of necessary repairs, maintenance and improvements ticked off by Deegan would cost north of $400,000, Deegan estimated.

Park district commissioners Nicholas Deegan and Michael Ryan sharply disagree over whether the district should invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a synthetic turf field. Photo: Denise Civiletti
Park district commissioners Nicholas Deegan and Michael Ryan sharply disagree over whether the district should invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a synthetic turf field. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The district currently has about $240,000 from monies resulting from the $230,000 sale of the district’s Pike Street property to the town and a $10,000 payment for a right-of-way. Those funds must be put back into site improvements, district clerk Lydia Tortora said.

Co-chairman Gerard Goehringer said the district also has received more than $300,000 in reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for bulkhead and parking lot replacement undertaken after Superstorm Sandy, which destroyed the bulkheading and parking lot at Veterans Park.

Undertaking a turf field would likely require bonding, Ryan acknowledged. A bond by law is subject to a permissive referendum — put to a ballot vote upon the petition of taxpayers — but whether or not a bond is needed, Ryan said he’d like to see a referendum held in any case.

“Let’s give the public the chance to have their say,” Ryan said.

The district should schedule a public information meeting on the proposal, Ryan said.

A handful of concerned residents attended last night’s meeting at the district’s Bailie Beach Park office.

Most came with questions, but Art Tillman stated opposition to the idea, citing cost and potential adverse health effects. He said recently a lot of ecological and health issues have arisen in connection with synthetic turf, due to what he called “carcinogenic substances” used in the turf, referring apparently to the materials often used for a field’s base.

The artificial turf covers a base layer which can consist of different materials, Recycled rubber has been a common material used in the base layer.

Ryan pointed out that there are organic base layer materials now being used, citing the Southold school district, which is planning to install a turf field using an organic base made of coconut shells.

The commissioner also said he had research reports prepared by Penn State University, New York City and the State of Connecticut that counter popular assertions of adverse health effects.

“This is used at West Point Military Academy,” Ryan said. He passed around a sample box from a company called UBU Sports. http://www.ubusports.com/

Tillman said turf fields haven’t been in widespread use long enough for there to be reliable data on health and ecological impacts. “You would have to wait decades before the truth comes out,” Tillman said.

Resident Amy Prager, longtime soccer player and coach, agreed with Ryan that improvements and more play area are needed. There are 38 teams using the local fields, she said. She said she’d like to see a cost comparison between organic and rubber fill.

Prager countered Deegan’s suggestion that other facilities, including Strawberry Fields, are adequate to meet demand.

“Strawberry Fields is horrible,” she said. Because its grass surface is not level and has many holes and divots, “it’s very dangerous,” she said.

“You’re talking about hundreds of years to recoup the costs” of a turf field, said resident Irene Bradley. “We’re bearing the brunt of the costs for the North Fork.”

Ryan said grass fields come with costs, too: the cost of planting or laying sod, reseeding, fertilizing, applying lime, cutting and watering.

Louise Harrison, a conservation biologist who said she has expertise in SEQRA (the N.Y. State Environmental Quality Review Act) told the commissioners they would have to comply with the law’s requirements for analyzing potential impacts.

“When the field reaches the end of its useful life, you’re creating solid waste that must be disposed. You will also need to assess the effect of a turf field on the soil below it.” Without light and water, the micro-organisms in the soil will die, Harrison said. She also noted that a stormwater runoff assessment would be required. She told the board it must present much more information to the public before it could even initiate SEQRA review.

“This is all very preliminary,” Ryan said. “It’s the first time we’ve had a conversation in a public meeting.” He said he would have much more information available for a public meeting dedicated to the subject.

The commissioners have not yet set a date for an informational meeting on Ryan’s proposal.

Another turf field is also proposed for Mattituck — that one at a private membership facility proposed by Sports East, on Route 25. The plan for that facility is currently being reviewed by the Southold planning board. Use of that field would be limited to members of the club.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.