WVN Newsletter #216: Turrf no simple project
- TURF FIELD HAS CONTINUING IMPLICATIONS
Dear Wayland Voter,
Artificial turf at the high school football field is expected to be
ready for the first home game on Sept. 14, but getting to this
point has involved hostility, divisiveness and lawyers. That
shouldn't surprise those who follow recent Wayland politics.
But the turf story is more than just another example of the way
things seem to be done in Wayland lately. Squabbling over the
$1 million project disclosed continuing implications for safe
drinking water, wetlands, public health and the use of
When residents settled their second environmental appeal to
the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in
July, allowing the installation to proceed, Town Administrator
Fred Turkington said, "They're erring on the side of caution, and
we're happy to oblige that." But there have been few if any
expressions of happiness, and some expressions of nastiness,
since the proposal ran into controversy last year. Proponents
brushed off objections all the way.
TOWN "HANDED A GIFT"
"The town is being handed a gift," said Wayland Boosters
President Craig Foreman, "70 percent of which is being paid for
privately." The Boosters seemed surprised that anybody would
look a gift horse in the mouth. Foreman clashed in 2006 with the
Community Preservation Committee over a proposal to use
$300,000 from the town's Community Preservation Act fund
designated for "affordable housing, open space protection, and
historic Preservation" (in the words of the state senator who
wrote the Community Preservation Act seven years ago). The
Wayland committee was aware that other communities had
used preservation funds for artificial turf despite lacking clear
authority in the law. When asked for an opinion, state
Department of Revenue lawyers advised the committee that the
use appeared to be improper.
Whereupon Wayland selectmen entered the fray. Selectman
Michael Tichnor called it "an affront" to his board when the
Community Preservation Committee exercised its right to
outside legal advice. The selectmen then hired a legal firm to
bolster town counsel's opinion that the use of town funds was
permitted. After a hotly debated Town Meeting vote approved the
$300,000 appropriation by a large majority, a group of residents
filed suit. Selectmen called the suit, which remains unresolved,
"an attempt to thwart the will of the citizens of Wayland."
If the plaintiffs prevail, the town would have to come up with the
$300,000 from some other source, and that could have an
impact on taxpayers.
The preservation fund question has also been raised in other
WHAT ABOUT THE WELLS?
Foreman and other supporters next clashed with residents who
appeared at the Conservation Commission hearing on the
project. These residents presented evidence that toxic
chemicals draining from the field could potentially endanger
wetlands in addition to the Happy Hollow wells which supply
nearly half of the town's drinking water. Foreman made fun of a
speaker who drew a diagram of the "cone of influence" to explain
that the wells draw most of the water from a small radius. Turf
supporters accused the residents of "absurdly
self-aggrandizing" behavior but offered little pertinent scientific
response. The consulting firm hired by the Boosters failed to
notice that the pipe draining the field led directly to the wells.
The Conservation Commission set a number of environmental
conditions for the project, including a request for review by the
Department of Environmental Protection. Ten residents who felt
that this could be inadequate filed an appeal with the DEP. After
inspecting the site, the DEP drinking water division then cited the
Town for existing violations of regulations at the high school
property and ordered the Town to propose an action plan to
remedy them. The wetlands division agreed with much of the
appellants' argument and ordered a new drain installed to
protect the wells and wetlands, including a federally protected
wildlife refuge abutting the Sudbury River. The residents said
the revised plan for the turf field drainage still wasn't adequate
and filed a second appeal.
A Wayland lawyer volunteered to represent the Boosters pro
bono, at first saying he represented the Conservation
Commission until the ConCom objected strenuously. He and
two other lawyers from Ropes & Gray, one of Boston's largest
firms, ended up representing the town as well as the Boosters
against the 10-person appeal. Pro bono work is usually thought
of as providing volunteer legal representation to those who can't
afford it. In this case, it seemed more like defending Goliath
The lawyers implied that $1 million in town funds was at stake,
which was incorrect, and that money might be withdrawn if the
turf wasn't installed in time for fall sports, though the Boosters
had said that all of the needed money was in hand.
The settlement allows the Boosters a completion date that was
was obviously important to them. Under the compromise
agreement there will be testing and monitoring, independent
review of the drainage design, and avoidance of toxic chemicals
in field maintenance. In return the residents lose the right to
further appeals as long as the conditions are met.
That may be less than the residents hoped for. But consider
what might have happened had the project breezed through
without questioning and research.
As in other contentious matters in the past few years,
proponents' frequent response to any skepticism or opposition
was ad hominem: Don't pay attention to these malcontents and
naysayers. For example, a OneWayland email newsletter in
December called residents' actions "Turf field attacks." In
addition to the frequent use of "attacks" the newsletter called
the actions "abuse" and "repugnant."
If you think about it, why would citizens express concern about
polluting the town's water supply and ask for properly designed
drainage ? Because they don't like football?
"Let us reason together" is not the motto for getting things done
in Wayland these days. Rather, citizen comments sometimes
describe the current governmental management style as "My
way or the highway."
What of the future? As you'll see below, Wayland isn't the only
place where issues are being raised.
The 40,000 pulverized used truck tires that will become the
athletic field are the product of FieldTurf, a company that claims
at least half of the large North American artificial turf market after
less than a decade in business. FieldTurf is touted as being
easier on athletes than Astroturf, which for decades has
produced complaints of rug burns and other injuries. (Still,
FieldTurf doesn't please everybody. When David Beckham, now
the best-known soccer player in America, sat out a recent game
at Gillette Stadium, the reason given was that he didn't want to
endanger an injured ankle by playing on artificial turf.)
FieldTurf users boast of lower maintenance costs, less water
usage and more frequent availability than with grass. For all
these reasons FieldTurf, though expensive, is in wide use in
many countries and in places as close as Sudbury. The
Wayland Boosters have talked about raising money to replace
the top layer of the field when it wears out in 10 or 12 years, at a
cost of up to 40 percent as much as the initial installation.
Synthetic turf is more vulnerable than grass to vandalism. When
vandals torched a field in Arlington this month, a bonfire-size
section was described as a "pile of goo." Repair costs were
estimated at $20,000-$50,000.
FieldTurf is now being studied for possible effects on health and
has been banned in some European countries because runoff
can contain contaminants including arsenic, lead, thallium,
copper, zinc and nickel. A recent study of the tire crumbs at the
Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station found traces of four
volatile organic compounds released into the air under
conditions like those of a hot summer day. The compounds
include a skin and eye irritant that can be harmful if swallowed or
inhaled, a carcinogen and a substance that can destroy mucous
membranes. Though the study was small, activists have called
for a moratorium on new installations in Connecticut.
The Wayland Boosters dismissed concerns about FieldTurf
reaching high temperatures as a result of solar heating of the
black tire rubber. Though the field will be used mostly during the
school year, there can be hot days in the fall and especially in the
spring, when the sun is high. One of the Wayland residents
who filed the appeal, Tom Sciacca, measured temperatures at
Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School on Aug. 3. Some results:
Air temperature in the shade: 91 degrees.
Clover patch, two inches high: 93.
Grass athletic field (brown and dry): 109
Asphalt (black): 135
Old synthetic turf field: 143
New synthetic field: 156
Studies at Columbia University found that synthetic turf can reach
a temperature 60 degrees above that of grass fields.
COMMUNITY PRESERVATION FUNDS
With town budgets under stress everywhere, it's no surprise that
some of the 127 communities that adopted the Community
Preservation Act want to spend the money in ways that weren't
imagined before. And it's no surprise that in Wayland and
elsewhere there are objections and even suits by residents who
want the Act used only for the things it was clearly designated for.
State legislators have discussed changing the Act to allow the
money to be spent on such things as artificial turf.
Voters in the towns that adopted the Act apparently found it a
good deal: Property tax bills go up one to three percent,
depending on the town's choice, and the state matches taxpayer
contributions. But because most of the communities that took on
the added tax are comparatively well off, there have been
negative reactions. Two thirds of the cities and towns, including
Boston, haven't adopted the tax, and they are in effect subsidizing
the matching funds for the other third.
Even with limited participation, much of it by small communities,
the Act is so popular that state officials now warn that the
matching funds may be cut back soon.
While the Wayland appeals were under way, Gov. Deval Patrick
was coincidentally proposing a plan that would limit the right of
residents' groups to appeal under the Wetlands Protection Act.
Any 10 residents, not just those with property rights interests,
can become a group under current law. The administration says
that such appeals can hinder developers. Environmentalists
point with concern to the loss of a third of the state's wetlands in
the past 200 years. The Boston Globe editorialized in favor of
moving slowly on regulatory change and finding ways of
speeding the process for developers without endangering
wetlands, which "cleanse drinking water supplies, protect
against flooding, and provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife."
Other things should be tried "before the state banishes its
wetlands Minutemen," the Globe opined.
The Wayland appeals have been cited as evidence that the
present system is valuable.
-- Michael Short
(Note: The residents filing the DEP appeals included Tom
Sciacca, a former ConCom member who writes for WVN.)
BACK-TO-SCHOOL TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT
Police plan increased traffic enforcement on Sept. 6-7 as
Wayland public schools open.
Police Chief Robert Irving asked drivers to watch their speed on
what he called "Wayland Slow Down Days."
Irving recommended that parents send students on school
buses whenever possible to reduce traffic. If students are being
dropped off at school, he advised leaving them where they won't
have to walk across a trafffic lane or through a parking lt.
Crosswalks in school zones are newly painted, he said.
On the evening before last Thanksgiving a driver from Acton
struck and killed a 13-year-old Wayland boy who was crossing
Old Connecticut Path near the high school.
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Michael Short, Editor