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Vol. LXII, No. 44
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
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Roberts Assuages Environmental Commission Fears of Synthetic Turf

Dilshanie Perera

Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC) Chair Wendy Kaczerski began last Wednesday’s meeting by explaining that commission members “wanted to know the health, environmental, and safety concerns of synthetic turf.” Recreation Department Director Jack Roberts came in to answer questions and elaborate upon the rationale for using such a surface for athletic fields.

“From a health and consumer safety standpoint, no one knows what the long-term effects of crumb rubber are, but legitimate tests have been done, and no short-term health issues have been found,” Mr. Roberts explained, saying that the turf material itself, which is a polyethelyne fiber woven into a carpet and cushioned by crumb rubber and sand, can provide different levels of cushioning depending on the sports played on the surface. He described it as a safer surface than natural grass in terms of falls and injuries.

A retention basin would be built under the turf field for proper drainage of the area, and Mr. Roberts mentioned that any plans would have to meet the “strict structure of all water runoff regulations” before proceeding with the development.

As far as the location and type of the synthetic turf field that the Recreation Department is considering using in Princeton, Mr. Roberts reported that they are “looking at Smoyer Park and a 300 by 300 foot plot that doesn’t have irrigation or drainage now,” though “no decisions have been made.”

A space at Community Park South was originally considered, but after assessing the elevation change of the fields, the drainage, the probable increased traffic flow in the area, the fact that in 1965 the park was built over a landfill, and the $4.5 million cost, alternatives were sought out, according to Mr. Roberts.

Calling the presence of synthetic turf “an appalling thought,” Vice Chair of the Shade Tree Commission Lindy Eiref said, “My real gripe is that I don’t believe it belongs in any of our parks.”

Matthew Wasserman, a PEC member, remarked that the commission would have to weigh the possible chemical toxicity of the field in the long term, versus the exposure to pesticides and insecticides that occurs with natural grass. Characterizing synthetic turf as “a known entity,” he advocated on testing for contaminants from runoff from the turf, and finding out how much might be leached into the waterways.

Mr. Roberts listed the benefits of such synthetic surfaces, including the ability to accommodate multiple sports, a greater volume of play, and activity immediately after rainstorms. “It is more cost-effective than taking trees out and building new fields,” he remarked, adding that Recreation Department already outsources “a huge amount of natural turf maintenance at this point.”

A grooming machine could be used to “fluff up the material,” which can also be washed down using sprinklers or hoses, Mr. Roberts explained, saying that the turf has a 12 to 15 year lifespan, and at that time only the green carpet, and not the subterranean retention basin, would have to be replaced.

Regarding Princeton’s shortfall in athletic space, a problem which he anticipates the synthetic turf would partially help to alleviate since the field could be used for more sports more frequently throughout the day, Mr. Roberts said, “We are very embarrassed that we can’t offer drop-in soccer facilities,” adding, “I don’t need other groups to tell me that we need gym space since we live it everyday.”

Noting that the rolling out of synthetic turf is “running ahead of the master plan” since funding for the field is being provided by the County through its “Mercer at Play” grant,

Mr. Roberts commented that the entire project will cost $1.1 million. The County’s contribution will be $760,000, and the Recreation Department will contribute the remainder from a special fund set aside in 2000 by the Borough and Township governments for the development of existing parklands.

Mr. Roberts assured the commission that the Recreation Department “will notify all residents and will stand before them and answer questions,” regarding the field’s location and viability. “We’re not here to run contrary to good public policy in providing recreation services to the community,” he said.

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