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Council’s ‘no’ kicks up dust

Players at Battle Point Park’s soccer fields say the pitch alternates between dust and mud, depending on the weather.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Players at Battle Point Park’s soccer fields say the pitch alternates between dust and mud, depending on the weather.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Soccer parents wanted the city to contribute $183K to new turf fields.

By TRISTAN BAURICK

Staff Writer

Despite the City Council’s fractured defense, the Bainbridge Island Youth Soccer Club couldn’t find the back of the net Wednesday night.

The council rejected the club’s $183,000 request to help pay for the planned $1.5 million renovation of two Battle Point Park soccer fields.

“I’m tremendously disappointed,” said BIYS President John Sloat after the council’s vote. “I think it short-changes our kids. The park district doesn’t have the money. We don’t have the funding. The council could have stepped up.”

The club, which boasts more than 1,000 members, had hoped to add city funds to the $750,000 already raised for construction of artificial turf fields at Battle Point.

Players and parents say the island suffers from a dearth of soccer venues. The fields at Battle Point are some of the worst on the island, according to players, and are typically submerged under large puddles.

The council underscored its support for youth soccer, but stressed that park improvements are the responsibility of the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District.

“This is a policy issue for me,” said Councilman Kjell Stoknes, who joined councilors Chris Snow and Bill Knobloch in opposing the proposal. “I prefer that the parks department handle its capital projects.”

Because the proposal falls under budget protocols, the council’s split 3-3 vote was enough to defeat it. Councilman Bob Scales, a member of the soccer club’s board, recused himself from the vote.

Councilors Nezam Tooloee, Debbie Vancil and Jim Llewellyn voted for the proposal. Tooloee voiced the strongest support.

“I’m disappointed that a couple of my colleagues are splitting hairs and saying it’s a park district problem,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s disingenuous.”

Tooloee pointed out that the council often purchases and hands large open space properties to the park district for public use.

Llewellyn agreed, adding that the council frequently doles money out to community groups, especially ones that benefit youths.

“I remember when kids came here with balloons and got money and when kids came here for the kids’ museum and also got money,” he said. “I don’t see this as any different.”

Knobloch countered that the club’s request is too large for the city’s limited funds.

“The pressure on the city for money is enormous,” he said. “We can’t say ‘yes’ all the time.”

Environmentalists and some Battle Point residents added to the chorus opposing the club’s proposal. They charged that artificial turf fields could be detrimental to the island’s ecosystem and underground water supply.

“We don’t want plastic fields at Battle Point Park,” said Blakely resident Kirsten Hytopoulos. “There are many unanswered questions. We are skeptical and we are concerned.”

Hytopolous and others said materials used in artificial turf can cause a host of human health problems and contaminate nearby wells.

Sarah Lane, who lives near the park, said her love for soccer doesn’t cancel her concern for the neighborhood’s environmental health.

“I play soccer there quite a bit,” she said. “I don’t particularly like the taste of muddy water” nor does she enjoy seeing a well-passed ball stop short where it “floats like a smug duck in a puddle.

“But I can’t, despite my love for soccer, advocate artificial turf there.”

Soccer supporters countered the environmentalists’ studies on the toxicity of artificial turf with studies and expert testimony of their own.

Ellen Brown, an environmental engineer, park neighbor and parent of soccer players, said artificial turf is nothing to fear.

“My well is recharged by Battle Point Park,” she said. “My son is recharged by soccer.”

Brown said environmental “data has been grossly misinterpreted” by opponents of the fields’ renovations.

“It’s my well, and I’m convinced it’s safe,” she said, adding that artificial turf fields have been installed “by the hundreds in environmentally-sensitive areas” in King County and elsewhere. Tests of these fields show no toxic affects, she said.

Failing to support the new fields could have a profound impact on island youth, said Sloat, the club’s president.

“There is a fields crisis,” he said, describing both a lack of fields and the general disrepair of existing ones.

When he motioned for the club members to stand, the council chamber swelled with a wave of blue jerseys worn by both players and their parents.

“This is a WASL night for these kids,” he said. “You can see how important it is to them.”

Some parents in the crowd whispered vows to oppose the reelection of councilors who opposed the spending proposal.

While the club failed to garner the council’s financial support, Sloat is optimistic that soccer players and their parents can reach their field improvement goals. The club has already gathered $250,000 through its members, $200,000 from the park district and $300,000 in expected grant funding.

Sloat vowed to ratchet up fundraising and, in a best case scenario, build the two artificial turf fields sometime next year.

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