March 10, 2021

Council Should Stop Installation of Synthetic Turf at Hilltop Park

To the Editor:

Currently the natural grass field at Hilltop Park is perfectly balanced in being able to serve two groups of users: the organized sport groups (clubs/leagues) for their practices/games and the local residents for their activities such as playing ball with their children, outdoor yoga, or teenagers hanging out after riding at the skate park. The Recreation Department will be removing the grass field and replacing it with a synthetic turf field to solely benefit the sport groups.

I think most of Princeton can fully appreciate the experience one has on real grass compared to plastic grass. Most of you live in single family homes with a grassy backyard. You would never change out your natural lawn for plastic grass. Well, Hilltop Park is our backyard — a communal yard shared by the thousands of residents living literally right next to the park and the thousands of other residents within walking distance. A significant proportion of Hilltop residents live in high density dwellings without private yards such as apartments and condominium communities. The Recreation Department’s calculation is overcompensating the sport groups for their needs in relation to what the other park-goers have to sacrifice. It is not an equitable trade off. 

Using synthetic turf comes at a tremendous cost to the environment. Storm water runoff will carry the toxins from the synthetic turf down the storm drains and pollute water sources downstream. The field will contain close to 100 tons of toxic black rubber crumbs made from old tires that contain heavy metals and toxic chemicals. The crumbs eventually breakdown into powder form that can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin which may result in developing cancer. Even though experts recommend avoiding contact with this material, it is impossible not to get it on you while using the field. Unlike a natural grass field, a synthetic turf field cannot act as a carbon sink capturing carbon to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The initial cost of placing the synthetic turf will be around $1.5 million. The synthetic fields typically are replaced around the tenth year. That is a recurring expense every decade of about $500,000. This means the Recreation Department will need to budget $50,000 each year to save up so they can replace the field later. Their yearly budget for maintaining all the parks is only $100,000. The town is going off course funding this non-priority project. It needs to set its priority in the right direction. Spend money on public projects that will improve our local businesses to keep our residents employed and making sure our social and health programs are well funded to care for our residents.

Many of you will agree — based on fairness, environmental concerns, and fiscal responsibility — that this project should not proceed. You need to speak up. An overwhelming response is the only way now to convince the Council members to reverse course.

Junglien Chen
McComb Road
Campbell Woods Community