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Van Dyk plans a new front in turf wars

Chris Van Dyk fought public funding for Key Arena, Safeco Field and a NASCAR track in Kitsap.

This week he launched a campaign against a smaller public project closer to home: an artificial turf field at Bainbridge High School.

Van Dyk said he has gathered a group to oppose turf projects at Memorial Stadium and Battle Point Park, and will take the Bainbridge Island School District to court to prevent them from making what he sees as a financially and environmentally irresponsible decision.

He wants the $2.5 million in bond money designated for field improvements to be spent on several natural grass fields instead.

“Our goal is to get them to agree to a compromise where funds are allocated for natural turf fields,” he said, “and if that doesn’t happen, we’ll tie them up in litigation for as long as I live on the island.”

First Van Dyk plans to raise awareness and funds with a website he’ll have online this week, www.plasticfieldsfornever.org.

He wants to spread the word before a Jan. 10 School Board meeting, where directors are expected to vote on whether to move the stadium plans into the permitting phase.

The Park District has already applied for permits to re-grade two Battle Point Park fields for turf, and city planner Bob Katai said that application will soon enter environmental review.

For Van Dyk and islanders who have commented on the park and school fields, environmental and health issues are the big concern.

They point to recent studies that have found that the crumb rubber used to fill in turf fields contains known carcinogens that could be absorbed by users or leached into stormwater or groundwater.

A study by the Connecticut non-profit group Environment & Human Health reported various toxins in turf field materials, while metals including lead and cadmium had been identified in crumb rubber made from recycled tires.

The group recommended a moratorium on artificial turf until more studies can be done.

Health and environmental risks associated with turf are under investigation in California and several European countries. Synthetic fields have also been found to be significantly warmer on the surface than natural grass.

Bainbridge football and soccer teams already play the majority of their away games on artificial turf fields.

The School District will conduct a State Environmental Policy Act review of the stadium plans before applying for permits.

District staff member Melinda Reynvaan has been responding to the environmental concerns of community members and has conducted her own research on turf, consulting with University of Washington professors and following up on studies forwarded to her.

She told directors at the Dec. 13 board meeting that she felt reassured about the safety of turf, but would continue to study the issue.She is expected to give another report at the Jan. 10 meeting.

School board member Dave Pollock said he was pleased with how well district staff was handling the complex environmental aspects of the project.

“Obviously there is a lot of information pointing both ways,” he said.

Van Dyk is a member of the School District’s citizen Capital Projects Advisory Committee, formed with 2006 passage of a $45 million school construction bond. He believes artificial turf at Memorial Stadium is not what voters wanted when they approved the bond.

Van Dyk said the district is pushing for artificial turf, when a regular grass field could be serviceable with more regulated use and better drainage.

“For me the really significant thing is that we would spend three times the money to install artificial turf, and little if any thought has been given to alternatives,” he said.

School Board President Mary Curtis said the district decided not to specify the type of field that would be built when putting the bond before voters. Instead, the $2.5 million was earmarked for general field improvements, with an advisory committee set up to recommend what type of field to build.

She said the choice of artificial turf over new grass makes better financial sense. Turf’s higher up-front costs would be covered by bond money; cheaper than grass to maintain over time, it would be less of a drain on the district’s general budget in the future.

Curtis said the district needs public input, but hopes the board will move the project forward into permitting so that it can stay on track for summer construction deadlines.

“There will be plenty of time to comment during the permitting process,” she said.

Van Dyk plans to take his turf war to the Puget Sound region and eventually nationwide.

For now, he said, islanders should worry about what could be rolled out in their own back yards.

“People need to call their school board members and ask one question: It’s our kids, why take the risk?”

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