Today, 1,803 voters in Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge went to the polls and rejected a referendum to spend $945,000 installing astroturf at Amity High School. While the turnout was very low by normal election standards, for an off-season referendum, the numbers were higher than many expected.
Based on the chatter around various water coolers, it seems like it boiled down to the fiscal conservatives and the environmental conservatives against the sports parents, with many people not having an opinion, and voting based on the recommendations of their friends.
The environmental conservatives were probably the loudest with comments against the proposal on the Conserve Woodbridge Facebook page, and presumably in backchannels. They expressed concern about fumes and runoff from the artificial turf. The fiscal conservatives spoke up at meetings raising concern about the towns' debt burdens.
This time, I decided to try an exit poll, which I set up using Google Documents. I put it together very quickly before heading off to work, so there were some mistakes in it. It wasn't clear to everyone that while I optionally gathered demographic information, there was no way for me to get any other information about the people filling out the poll.
A handful of people completed the poll, the results were 2 to 1 against the referendum in the exit poll and about the same 64% to 36% in the actual voting. For concerns express, the biggest concern appears to have been the cost, followed by health issues, and environmental issues.
At the Woodbridge polling location just a few people showed up to find the results, and the biggest concern appears to have been about the lack of information that was distributed about the referendum and who should have distributed it.
The Amity AstroTurf Referendum is today, and I've set up a simple, unscientific exit poll using Google Docs. If you live in Bethany, Woodbridge, or Orange, please consider filling out this poll
If I get enough responses, I'll post about the results here or in a later blog post.
Update: One person asked about the anonymity of this poll. It was set up using Google Docs. You do not have to be logged into Google Docs to fill out the poll. It does track the time you filled it out, and your answer to the questions, but it does not track any other information besides the questions you answer.
We've already had answers from all three towns.
On Tuesday, voters from Bethany, Woodbridge, and Orange will go to the polls to vote on a referendum about installing astroturf at Amity Regional High School. There has been a bit if discussion about the issue on various social media sites, but no good comprehensive examination of the subject that I've been able to find.
So, I've been gathering information from various sources which I will try to present here.
Two links have been posted on the Conserve Woodbridge Facebook page:
The first article appears to be a fairly balanced view of the topic. It lists advantages as lower, maintenance costs, pesticide free, increased playability, fewer injuries and saves water. For the cons, it talks about a heat hazard, lead, zinc and other harmful chemicals, increased MRSA risk, bacterial breeding ground, adverse affect on asthmatics and once artificial, always artificial.
Unfortunately, the article doesn't provide links to support its claims, and there is plenty of material to contradict various claims. For example, the New York State Department of Health has a Fact Sheet: Crumb-Rubber Infilled Synthetic Turf Athletic Fields
While injury studies have not consistently identified differences in abrasion and laceration risks between natural and infilled synthetic turf, some types of synthetic turf may result in more skin abrasions. Although very few tests have been performed, the available data do not suggest the widespread presence of infectious agents, such as MRSA, on synthetic turf fields. Also, the available information indicates that outdoor or indoor synthetic turf surfaces are no more likely to harbor infectious agents than other surfaces in those same environments. Disease outbreak investigations conducted in response to illnesses caused by a variety of germs (e.g., MRSA, Campylobacter, meningococcus, echovirus, herpes simplex virus, hepatitis virus, coxsackie virus) have not identified playing fields, either natural or synthetic, as likely to increase the risk of transmitting infections.
Another valuable resource is the The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Risk Assessment of Artificial Turf Fields.
The second article is written by a turfgrass producer and is far from unbiased. Yet even this article contradicts the first article:
Teams that once had artificial grass, like the Reds, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals and Mariners, have chosen natural grass when updating their fields.
Over on the Woodbridge - Bethany Residents Forum there has been a lengthy discussion. I highlighted a few different articles, such as NH Register 5/19/2013: Amity considers artificial turf for field and Orange Live 8/24/2012 - A Letter From The Amity Turf Committee. Allison Rossi also shared a link to Group seeks $700,000 for turf football field at Amity High School, and to Bethwood Patch 1/10/2012: Turf Wars Avoided at Amity and Ed Walsh shared, NH Register 1/13/2012: Amity dads hope to raise $1M for artificial turf field
There are a few key things that come out of this. There had been an effort to raise private funds which appears not to have been successful, and the price has fluctuated between $700,000 and $1 million.
There has also been considerable discussion at various town meetings. Summaries of these discussions can be found in minutes of various board meetings.
Fundraising for a turf field has been done by a committee of dedicated volunteers and so far $2,000 has been raised. Another route to getting the turf field could be to bond it. We could present the idea to the people of the three communities and see if they would support spending $900,000 for this. With a brand new turf field, you can deduct approximately $20,000 per year for field maintenance. If a situation arose where it snowed, the field could be plowed.
It starts off with
Mr. Mengold recapped the history of discussion around an artificial turf field, beginning in 2004 with a proposal to the Board. He reviewed debunked reports on harmful effects of such fields (carcinogenic materials, increased injuries, etc.) and how the state Attorney General’s moratorium on installing artificial turf was later lifted. He went over the wet conditions of the current grass field, how heavy use by both Amity and community youth football games damaged the field and led to more athletic injuries.
Most other sports teams play on synthetic turf fields at other schools; in Amity’s DRG only one other school does not have a synthetic turf field.
The public hearing was followed by a special meeting, Amity Regional School District No. 5 Special Meeting Board of Education May 21, 2013 where the board approved
APPROPRIATION OF $945,000 AND AUTHORIZATION OF BONDS AND TEMPORARY NOTES IN THE SAME AMOUNT FOR REPLACEMENT OF THE CURRENT NATURAL GRASS FIELD AT THE AMITY REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC STADIUM WITH AN ARTIFICIAL TURF FIELD
The board then approved a referendum on the bonds:
SHALL REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT NUMBER 5 APPROPRIATE $945,000 AND AUTHORIZE BONDS AND TEMPORARY NOTES IN THE SAME AMOUNT FOR REPLACEMENT OF THE CURRENT NATURAL GRASS FIELD AT THE AMITY REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC STADIUM WITH AN ARTIFICIAL TURF FIELD?
I've also spoken with elected officials of neighboring towns, who have spoken positively of their experiences installing astroturf at their high schools.
Based on all of this, it seems to me that there is not compelling evidence of significant negative environmental or health risks to moving astroturf. In terms of the most basic cost benefit analysis, it appears as if the fields would cost $20,000 a year less to maintain, but that would take close to fifty years to cover the cost of the installation.
There have been discussions about special shoes necessary for playing on astroturf, but it is not such that the fields couldn't be used for other sports and given that our teams play away games at schools with astroturf, I suspect the shoes necessary for playing on astroturf are already available.
So, is the cost of installing astroturf worth it in terms of additional field use, or other benefits? I haven't seen a strong argument for that either.
In terms of private funding, I would love to see people from the community step up to help cover some of the cost, but I worry about this leading towards a slippery slope. What school activities should be publicly funded? Which ones should be privately funded? Should we look for private funding to make upgrades to science laboratories?
While I have yet to find compelling reasons for, or against the astroturf, I hope this will help others be better informed about the issue, make their own decisions, and show up at the voting booth on Tuesday.
Yesterday was Stand Down in Connecticut. In a positive light, it is a yearly event to provide services to needy veterans in our state. Community, Health Center, Inc., where I work, is a regular participant at Stand Down, providing medical screenings and dental cleanings to our veterans. CTNewsJunkie has a great article about Stand Down being A Bittersweet Stand Down for Outgoing State Veterans Affairs Commissioner.
Schwartz, who for a decade has been commissioner of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, accepted a nomination last month from President Obama to serve as an assistant secretary within the federal VA.
CHC acknowledged Commissioner Schwartz' great work and I was honored to hear some of her story about making Stand Down the success it is.
Yet there is a different way to look at Stand Down, not quite as rosy, and much more challenging. Stand Down is the yearly reminder that every day, we do not do enough for our veterans, or for that matter, for the men and women currently serving in our Armed Services.
This morning, I found a blog post, My Name Is Jason, I’m A 35-Yr-Old White Male Combat Veteran…And I’m On Food Stamps.
I do apologize for burdening you on the checkout line with real-life images of American-style poverty. I know you probably believe the only true starving people in the world have flies buzzing around their eyes while they wallow away, near-lifeless in gutters….
I’ve known people recently - soldiers in the Army ... They were off fighting in Afghanistan while their wives were at home, buying food at the on-post commissary with food stamps.
And nobody bats an eye there, because it’s not uncommon in the military.
So if you run into a congressman or a political commentator who is calling for reducing food stamps, as them why they are cutting funding to veterans and servicemen.
If they give you some story about how people are using food stamps to support their addictions, whether it be tobacco, alcohol, or some other type of drug, ask they why they aren't addressing the underlying problem of addictions?
Jason has his take on what's going on. It isn't about stopping fraud. It is about being a bully.
I didn’t risk my life in Afghanistan so I could come back and watch people go hungry in America. I certainly didn’t risk it so *I* could come back and go hungry.
Anyone who genuinely supports cutting food stamps is not an intellectual or an ideologue – they’re a bully.
And nobody likes a bully. Except other bullies.
It’s time for regular Americans to stand up to these bullies. Not cower in the corner, ashamed of needing help. Because if there’s one thing life has taught me, it’s that you never know when you’ll be the one in need.
We need to stand up to bullies, not just because we, or someone we love may be the next to be bullied. We need to do it because it is the American thing to do, it is the moral thing to do.
"These same politicians are not willing to go to where the real money is: the Pentagon budget, which everyone knows to be the most wasteful in government spending, or the myriad subsidies to corporations, including agribusiness subsides to members of Congress who will be voting to cut SNAP for the poor. ... They are going after cuts to the poor and hungry people because they think it is politically safe to do so. So let’s call that what it is: moral hypocrisy."
I'm all for cutting fraud, waste, and abuse wherever it may be, whether it be in food stamps, or the Pentagon budget.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’