Stonington athletic field troubles to be aired

By Joe Wojtas
The New London Day • 4/2/2012

Stonington – The task force charged with recommending how the town should improve and expand the overused athletic field complex behind the high school will hold a public forum tonight to get input from residents before making a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen.

The forum comes as some residents have raised questions about the cost of some of the options and the wisdom of installing artificial turf on the all-purpose field because it was built on fill and has drainage problems.

“The more parents and athletes we can get to attend, the better impact can be made on the naysayers that are so conscious of money they do not see the impact or reasoning behind the proposals,” high school athletic director Bryan Morrone wrote in an email to coaches last week.

Meanwhile, resident Gracelyn Guyol, who founded Clean Up Sound and Harbors, sent out an email last week that said artificial turf “costs more to buy and maintain, pollutes water and has serious health risks for children.

“There is simply no reason to use it,” she said.

She said the materials used in the turf is made from recycled chopped rubber tires, which are hazardous or “special” waste and banned from landfills in 44 states.

Guyol said there are no long-term studies that show artificial turf to be safe. She said that in 2007, a study by Connecticut’s Agricultural Experiment Station, identified 25 chemicals in crumb tire rubber, four of which are confirmed to pose health risks. She said the turf also increases then risk of injury risk and cases of MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection.

She said environmental pollution is a special concern in Stonington as two of the athletic fields are on ground said to flood regularly.

“One reason tires are excluded from landfills is to avoid contaminating groundwater. The close proximity of Stonington High School athletic fields to the marshlands of Barn Island Nature Preserve and Fishers Island Sound mandates careful scrutiny before installing repackaged hazardous waste,” she wrote.

A subcommittee of the task force that includes Morrone has said the best solution is to install artificial turf on the football and all-purpose fields. That would not only provide space for high school teams but youth leagues teams and recreational programs. Improvements would also be made to the existing grass fields and other aspects of the complex including lighting, parking and drainage. That option though would cost about $3.5 million.

“There are pros and cons to all plans, but only Plan A truly addresses the over usage problem. It would be expensive though,” Morrone wrote in the email to coaches.

Other options include just repairing the grass fields at a cost of about $750,000, installing just one artificial turf field and building up to three soccer fields in the wooded land between the two picnic pavilions.

The task force was formed because the softball, all-purpose and field hockey fields all flood. Rocks stick up from the football practice field while the soccer and football fields are uneven and have bare patches. Fencing and lighting are needed around some of the fields.

The problems have been exacerbated by the heavy use of the fields, not just by high school teams but by recreation programs, youth teams, residents and outside groups. In addition, there are not enough fields to host all the teams and programs that would like to use them.

The Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance will have to approve any plan suggested by the task force before sending it to a referendum vote. Whatever option is eventually chosen will be combined with between $4 million and $5.5 million in road repairs and then sent to voters.