MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Township Committee voted to approve a bond ordinance that would pay for installing artificial turf in DeHart Park on first reading at its July 6 meeting, after more than an hour of public comment from township residents who both supported and opposed the measure. The ordinance passed with a vote of 4-1; Committeewoman Nancy Adams cast the only opposing vote. The total bond would be for $2,025,000 for turf and a 9-1-1 dispatch console; municipal bonds of $1,923,750 would be issued.
“I can tell you without hesitation that we never would have been able to grow the league to its current size without access to Underhill Field and the safe, all-weather playing surface it provides,” Bryan Umiker, a co-founder of the SOMA Flag Football league, said at the meeting, asking the committee to advance the bond ordinance. “The sports fields in Maplewood and South Orange form an interconnected ecosystem. When one field is closed for rain, there is a domino effect that impacts every other youth sport taking place at the same time. I can’t overstate how beneficial it will be to all youth sports in our towns to convert DeHart to an all-weather surface.”
Kevin Griffith also spoke at the meeting in support of converting the field to turf. He is the president of Columbia High School’s Ultimate Frisbee booster club and a middle school Ultimate Frisbee coach.
“If we could have a turf field at DeHart, that would allow for greater participation of more sports, and more children,” Griffith said. “I can’t tell you how many times fields were closed for minimal rain. It doesn’t take a whole lot to shut things down in this town. Having a turf field at DeHart would open things up and allow it to be more playable.”
While Underhill is an option, Griffith said not all sports are able to use it. It’s not designed for baseball or Ultimate Frisbee.
“If you think about the savings we would have, we could use the money to benefit the other fields,” he said. “We could take care of Memorial Field, redo the field by the train tracks. There are so many fields that we could do a better job with. If we have turf at DeHart, we have funds to work on those and get them better.”
Maplewood Library board President Kate McCaffrey said at the meeting that she is opposed to the artificial turf, citing environmental and cost reasons when she spoke.
“I think we have to remember that we’re pushing the earth to a breaking point,” she said. “This is a valued green space in a densely populated community, and I think it would be a mistake to pave it over and to limit its access only to the athletes of our town.”
McCaffrey wasn’t the only person who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting about environmental issues. Genoa Warner, a resident and environmental toxicologist who teaches at NJIT and lives near DeHart in the Hilton neighborhood, said the rubber and plastic that turf fields are made of contain chemicals that are hazardous to health.
“Chemicals that are hazardous for our children are present in turf. So in exchange for what many people believe to be the superior properties of artificial turf, we need to decide what level of risk we’re willing to accept on behalf of our children, our neighborhood environment and future generations. I hope we can find another solution besides putting more plastic into one of our community green spaces,” Warner said, also saying that manufacturers sometimes sow doubt about scientific studies in order to keep selling their products. “However, there are very few studies that have assessed any associations in health effects in humans following exposure to artificial turf in particular.”
Recreation Advisory Committee Chairperson Heather Saslovsky said that DeHart’s field is not the only one that needs rehabilitation in town.
“This is a problem at almost every single field we have,” she said at the meeting. “We’ve been talking about this for years, nothing has changed, and when and if you do something with DeHart it is not enough, because all of our fields have issues, particularly regarding drainage.”
Saslovsky said she thinks there is a huge liability that lies with the town no matter what they choose to do, and the committee needs to do more research.
“You need to do a lot more work before you rush to an answer,” Saslovsky said.
A discussion was not had by the committee members about the turf; a public hearing and a final vote will be held on the bond ordinance at the July 20 meeting.