Voters may decide where the turf lies

t Council will decide whether to place the issue on November ballot.

In the escalating debate over artificial turf, both sides have had their say.

Now it appears the final say will go to voters, thanks to a petition signed by more than 1,100 islanders.

Presented to the city this week by artificial turf opponent Chris Van Dyk, the measure if passed would ban synthetic turf fields on Bainbridge and raise taxes to pay for the installation of new grass fields.

After handing off the signatures Wednesday, Van Dyk told city leaders that he and others are worried about the safety and environmental impacts of the product.

“The turf industry has betrayed whatever public trust it may have enjoyed,” he said. “The public has stated it wants to weigh in on this issue – and this is not a small issue.”

The issue has been a polarizing one among islanders, as two separate artificial turf projects – one at Bainbridge High School and another at Battle Point Park – continue to progress on separate tracks.

Construction began on the high school field this summer. The city had signed off on plans for two artificial turf fields slated for construction at Battle Point Park, but last week revoked its original decision and imposed stricter regulations to protect groundwater in the area.

Backers of artificial turf say the product is safe and would provide year-round playability at fields that are now a mess much of the year. They say it’s the current facilities, with potholes and puddles aplenty, that are a safety hazard, rather than the proposed artificial surfaces.

“Our position is that the petition is ridiculous,” Bainbridge Island Youth Soccer Club president John Sloat said. “The whole issue is capacity and this wouldn’t address that. All we want are adequate fields so our kids can play and be active.”

Sloat said the club and its 1,200 members support both artificial turf projects on the island. The club still hopes to have the Battle Point fields completed this fall, he said.

Both sides of the debate say science is on their side.

School district officials have continually defended their decision to go with artificial turf, saying they exhaustively researched the issue and are confident the product is safe.

Opponents counter that not enough is known about the impacts of synthetic fields on player safety and the environment.

They say it contaminates groundwater and exposes players to health risks.

Many have pointed to a warning issued last month by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention about possible lead exposure from some artificial turf surfaces.

The city is reviewing the petition, and has made no formal decision on whether it meets municipal guidelines to be on the ballot in November.

Van Dyk, who this January started the Web site, said signature gatherers have about 150 extra signatures, and could get more, should any names on the petition be invalidated.

In addition to banning artificial turf, the plan would impose a half-cent sales tax on retail purchases to go toward natural fields; funding for each field would not exceed $700,000 per year, the petition says.

The council on Wednesday was set to approve $300,000 in funding toward the Battle Point fields, but will instead wait on the decision until a joint park district/city council meeting later this summer.

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