In one of the final steps in the lengthy and challenging FY2024 budget planning process, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) addressed two topics at Monday’s (April 10) special meeting:
- The proposed turf field at Allen’s Meadow, which the BOS voted unanimously to submit as a referendum for bonding on the ballot at the Annual Town meeting on May 2
- Budget reductions in response to the recommendation by the `Board of Finance “(BOF) to cut $200,000 from the budget proposed by the BOS
Clearing The Hurdles On A New Turf Field
After a delay in the process of finalizing the lease terms for the state-owned land at Allen’s Meadow, the Town has now confirmed it has the ability to use the site for an artificial turf field with lighting and a seasonal bubble.
The glitch was a last-minute delay while the CT Department of Transportation conducted an extra environmental review.
“The fact that [the state] did a second environmental review and came back and said ‘you’re fine,’ I was happy with that,” Vanderslice told GMW following the April 3 BOS meeting when the delay was announced.
More details on the plan for the proposed field are emerging.
The proposed field would be located in the southeast side of Allen’s Meadow. A preliminary rendering (updated since GMW‘s April 3 reporting) is shown below, with the artificial turf field in the lower right corner.
DPW Director and Town Engineer Frank Smeriglio briefed the selectmen on the latest plans. He cautioned the plans were still preliminary and would be fine-tuned in the final design. Conceptually, the new, multi-purpose field would:
- measure 255 feet by 405 feet
- have LED lighting with lumens appropriate for the relevant sports
- include three moveable bleachers measuring 8 feet by 15 feet each
- widen the existing parking area and add a turnaround area at the far end
Vanderslice took the opportunity to respond to criticism by some residents that the selectmen are advancing a plan for bonding the project before the final design is available for residents to consider.
“I just want to say, the way we approached this is the exact same way we approach every other project,” Vanderslice said. “Whether it was the stadium track or even the police headquarters… we come up with a conceptual plan and then, if the money is approved, [we] develop the detailed plans.”
“The idea that this is a conceptual plan that gets further developed is the standard way you do it,” Vanderslice continued. “You don’t spend a lot of money on completing the entire design for something you don’t know the voters are going to approve.”
Detailed cost estimates can be found on the Town website.
- The design and construction (in today’s dollars) would be $1,822,527 including lighting, drainage, and other ancillary costs.
- Assuming 6% inflation until the work is completed, along with a 10% cost contingency, the total cost would be $2,114,131.
- The Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation (WARF) would contribute $180,000 toward the field construction. WARF has committed to provide up to $500,000 for the project, but $320,000 would be earmarked for the seasonal bubble (which would be completed at a later date) and related utility infrastructure.
- Assuming the 6% inflation estimate is accurate and the full contingency is required, the maximum the Town would bond would be $1,934,131. If a contingency is not required, the Town would bond $1,751,878.
The meeting also revealed additional information about PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl acids) and the turf material that would be used at Allen’s Meadow, which is manufactured by Shaw Sports Turf.
The subject of PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” came to the forefront in recent months when the Norwalk River Watershed Association (NRWA) raised concerns about the new turf being installed in the watershed area of Allen’s Meadow. After water testing was done by the NRWA and separately by the Town, the NRWA remains opposed to the project.
However, a statement issued by the turf manufacturer indicates PFAS should not be a concern.
“Shaw has a longstanding commitment to sustainability and the responsible manufacture of our products. This includes a strong focus on the material chemistry of our products… Shaw Sports Turf does not use any PFAS chemicals currently listed as part of California’s Proposition 65 regulations or identified as part of USEPA’s Method 537 to manufacture the components of its Legion turf field products, including the fibers and backing materials. This information is confirmed through independent, third party laboratory testing of the finished product.”
Documentation from the lab testing of Shaw’s finished product has been posted on the Town website, listing all of the specific chemical compounds tested.
Vanderslice urged the board to advance the project.
“We did our research, we listened to the state, and we listened to our attorney,” Vanderslice said. “[PFAS] are in so many things, I don’t know why you would single out a turf field that we don’t have any evidence will result in a problem for drinking water.”
Selectman Ross Tartell assessed the issue similarly.
“We have the study from Shaw, we have the study [from] Lilly field and the high school field — and they’ve been there for years — and we agreed every year we will test,” Tartell said.
Selectwoman Kim Healy observed that most of the public input, including scores of emails, was in favor of the field, and felt the concerns of residents and groups opposed to the field were all addressed by the board, including the concerns about PFAS. Regarding the claims made by a speaker at the NRWA’s webinar, “The Hazards of Artificial Turf: Learn The Latest From The Leading Experts,” Healy said, “I found them to be quite alarmist, to be honest,” she said.
“We’ve done our due diligence. We had our own independent tests done. We looked at the manufacturer, including the fibers and backing materials,” Second Selectman Josh Cole said. “It’s not rushed… this has been a long deliberate process. We’ve taken the necessary steps and looked at the necessary things. There’s clearly a demonstrated need. This has been a long time coming.”
Selectman Bas Nabulsi, who had some reservations about the project in earlier meetings, is now on board.
Nabulsi said he considered the turf project “the most challenging” of all the issues he has encountered during his tenure on the board. However, he said he was satisfied with the site planning, budget estimates, commitment from WARF, carrying costs and lease issues. He also said he would rely on the Town’s environmental testing.
The discussion on the turf concluded with a unanimous vote by the selectmen to submit the turf project as a referendum for bonding at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting.
An overview on the project has been posted on the Town website which clearly outlines the project for residents, including the need, lease status and the state’s environmental review.
Lingering Concerns For Some Residents
Six residents attended the April 10 meeting, either remotely or in person, to offer public comment.
Three (Tom Viggiano, Nick Gemelli and WARF vice president Scott Lawrence) were in support of the new turf field.
Three others (Jamie Acker, Kelly Morron and Sara Curtis) expressed lingering concerns about the environmental impact — unpersuaded by the Town’s testing and legal counsel — as well as a concern that the project was being rushed without full understanding of potential future consequences or costs.
Several times during the meeting, Vanderslice defended the project’s planning and clarified that no bonding would take place before spring of 2024 — which she believes is plenty of time to finalize plans and ensure WARF’s fundraising would materialize.
While confident about proceeding with the project, Vanderslice was not dismissive of residents opposed to the project. Rather, she thanked those who have been participating in the process and expressing concerns.
“Thank you to everybody that contributed to the conversation and provided data. I do believe when the public questions and challenges us, we do a better job. I do appreciate it — forcing us to do a better job,” Vanderslice said.
All of the discussion including the public comment (at the beginning and end of the meeting) may be heard on the Zoom meeting recording, which is posted on the Town website.
Finalizing the BOS Budget
The selectmen had one more task at the meeting: to identify $200,000 in reductions to their FY’24 budget, as requested by the Board of Finance.
Vanderslice recommended the following adjustments to the budget:
- $100,000 offset from an increase in Parks and Recreation Dept. programming revenue
- $30,000 from salt
- $35,000 from across business insurances
- $35,000 from the Town’s grant to the Wilton Library
The selectmen voted to approve all but the Library reduction. As an alternative, they agreed the $35,000 would be charged to the BOS reserve line item, and the reduction will be discussed further with the WLA.
[Editor’s Note: This story was updated to clarify comments by Kim Healy in regard to claims made by the NRWA.]
Still a hard no from me; I intend to vote against all non-essential bonding initiatives in any year in which the school budget is not fully funded, and encourage fellow parents to do likewise. If we can afford to borrow $2M to build a turf field, we can certainly afford an extra $1.4M to support our schools.
Allen’s Meadow was a beautiful, natural field with wildflowers, birds, hiking trails and community gardens for years.
Building a turf field there with a huge white bubble in this place is unsightly and will add more noise and traffic, not to mention the expense to taxpayers for years to come.
I could not agree more. This is an awful proposal. Hopefully this will be voted down.
BOS is pushing this turf bubble thru in response to a small group of residents who want it done. It’s going to be another wasteful spend, a chemical dump and an eyesore.
Playing ball on natural turf is safer, more fun and cheaper to maintain, replace.
Another unnecessary ‘me too’ gotta have with outsized influence.
I want to make it clear that I considered every comment or concern, positive or negative, that was sent into the BOS before making a decision on the field. None were dismissed as less valuable than others. At the meeting, I shared that almost 80% of the communications about the field were in support of it. Ultimately, I was persuaded by the overwhelming support shown at the BOS meetings and via email as well as after reviewing all the scientific, financial, and legal information that was provided to us that addressed the concerns brought forward by the public. This clearly satisfied all of us on the BOS which is why we all voted in favor of moving it forward for bonding.
I’m not sure I would believe Shaw Industries’ statement that their product does not contain PFAS chemicals. A 2019 article from the Intercept noted “… unexplained levels of fluorine-based compounds in all of the eight samples of turf grass blades…” that were tested by a non-profit environmental research group in Michigan. The samples came from Shaw Industries and Turf Factory Direct. Full article: https://theintercept.com/2019/10/08/pfas-chemicals-artificial-turf-soccer/
(There was 45-255ppm total fluorine in those samples, according to a press release here: https://peer.org/toxic-forever-chemicals-infest-artificial-turf/)
P.S. The City of Boston banned artificial turf for all new fields:
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