Mattituck Park District co-commissioner Michael Ryan pitched an ambitious plan on Wednesday night to resurface the Aldrich Lane park’s field with artificial turf, saying it would be a prudent way for the district to reinvest in the often-used land.
And though the proposal — which could cost roughly $1 million if it were ultimately approved by voters — is still in its preliminary stages, the idea already drew support and criticism from members of the public and others on the park district commission at the group’s meeting Wednesday night.
At the meeting, Mr. Ryan outlined the idea to install a turf field at the Laurel park, which could either cover 100,000 square feet or 80,000 square feet if the district wants to save money. The former idea would cost “just over $1 million,” Mr. Ryan estimated.
“It’s a tall order,” he said. “It’s a lot of money.” The less expensive plan would total around $700,000.
Much of the funding for the project would come out of reimbursement funds the district got back from the Federal Emergency Management Agency relating to a repairing of bulkheads at Veterans Beach that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. More could be paid off using money the district pulled in from previous sales of its properties, like the $230,000 sale of a parking lot on Pike Street approved by voters last year.
The district may have to bond out to complete the project, he said.
Mr. Ryan said nearly 40 sports teams — mostly lacrosse and soccer — use the Aldrich Lane park each year. The turf would carry an eight-year warrantee and would likely last between 10 and 15 years, he said.
He believes that park is due for an upgrade.
“I think it’s time we start to spread out some of the money we’ve collected over the past few years,” he said.
But fellow commissioner Nicholas Deegan felt the money spent on a turf field might be better spent elsewhere.
Mr. Deegan said he could think of at least $400,000 in other projects — like installing a bathroom and a storage room, making improvements to the tennis courts and fixing the flooding issues in the park’s parking lot — that could be done instead.
Replacing the sod on the field would likely only cost about $80,000 in total and he said the grass fields had stood up well in the past.
Amy Prager, a Mattituck resident who coached locally for 12 years, agreed that the field was in need of a tune-up. She described a corner of the field that had become worn down. She said alternatives, like sending teams to the Strawberry Fields park, which isn’t owned by the district, weren’t feasible since the field there is pockmarked and uneven.
But the idea already ran into some opposition from residents and other members of the park district commission, who expressed concerns over whether a turf field was the right investment and whether or not turf was safe.
Art Tillman, the Town’s Democratic Party chairperson who said he was speaking at the meeting as a Mattituck resident, questioned whether turf would be safe, pointed to recent news reports that suggested the fill used on turf fields, which is made of recycled rubber, could be carcinogenic. Another resident, John Bradley said it “might be unwise to risk it” if the fields do actually cause cancer.
Mr. Ryan said those concerns were unnecessary, citing reports by Penn State, Connecticut and New York City disproving the supposed dangers, but Mr. Tillman pressed on, comparing the turf health questions to concerns raised about cigarettes decades ago.
“It could be the same problem,” he said.
Mr. Ryan said other options for filling the artificial turf include an organic cork mixture that had no potential to be dangerous. He added that the details of any proposal, if it moves forward, would be made available before the vote.
“Those fields have handled everything that’s been thrown at them,” Mr. Deegan said as Mr. Ryan disagreed. According to Mr. Ryan, the fields have drainage issues and can only be used during perfect weather, while a turf field could be used in any weather, even on soggy days that would turn the current field to mud.
Mr. Deegan said the district could always hire someone to take care of the field instead of investing in a turf option.
Not all of the concerns related to the field itself. Irene Bradley said she was irked that the Mattituck taxpayers would be paying to improve a field that is also used by other children on the North Fork, whose families don’t pay into the park district.
“I’m concerned we’re bearing the brunt of the cost for the entire North Fork,” she said.
A meeting will be planned in the future to publicly discuss more details about the project, including options for filling and a cost-benefit analysis of how the fields would impact taxpayers. The date for that meeting hasn’t been set.
“It needs more time,” Mr. Ryan said. “It needs more dedicated time.”
Photo caption: Co-commissioner Michael Ryan hands a sample of artificial turf to an audience member at Wednesday night’s Mattituck Park District Commission meeting.