In the weeds


We supported the concept of a combination of synthetic turf and natural grass fields in 2017. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. School officials, with the help of MV@Play, made the case that the natural grass fields at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School could not adequately be allowed to go unused enough to keep the natural grass fields in suitable shape.

There is still a very real need to fix the badly worn fields of MVRHS. Student athletes deserve better fields to host their games on, and, of course, injury is a concern when fields are in such poor condition.

Some things have changed in the four years since we supported the project to include a synthetic turf field, and with this new information, we’ve changed our position.

The Island has become increasingly conscious of the environmental consequences of plastics. We are one of the first places to ban plastic bottles in some towns, and this movement has come from some of the Island’s youth. The kids at Plastic Free MV have convinced the three up-Island towns to support the plastic bottle ban, and they have plans to bring the issue before down-Island town meetings, as well. It’s counterintuitive to support this plastic bottle ban and then invite a massive, plastic field into the middle of our landscape.

School officials and their consultant have failed to give assurances that the field will be recycled when its useful life, estimated at about 10 to 15 years, is over. Last year when school officials submitted the project to the Oak Bluffs planning board, chairman Ewell Hopkins raised the issue of recycling. At the time, advocates said the field materials could be recycled, but that has proven to be speculative. There is no such facility in the U.S. at this time. And while contractors would be required to put $50,000 into escrow to cover removal of the field, money won’t solve the issue of contributing to the detrimental effects plastic has on the environment if there’s still no place to recycle the materials. The amount of methane gas that will be released by the synthetic turf has also been raised as an environmental concern.

Transparency has also been lacking. Finance committees on the Island have asked for and been rebuked in their efforts to get an understanding of how much it will cost to maintain the synthetic field. At a recent meeting, school officials said it would be part of the operational budget. But it’s a fair question to ask if this field will cost more than maintaining grass fields, which, obviously, the high school has had a hard time doing. And how can anyone make this type of a decision without this basic information? It would seem easy enough for school officials to obtain from projects off-Island, and yet their reluctance to provide this basic information raises questions about why they’re not providing it. Any business that was pitched a project without providing maintenance information wouldn’t even consider it.

As for the private donors who remain anonymous, we find that questionable. If this is a worthy project, it’s something that school officials should be able to sell to taxpayers and the member towns should fund out of their obligation to the public schools. Instead, school officials came across as dismissive and defensive when they were asked about the private funding. Superintendent Matt D’Andrea lashed out at West Tisbury finance committee member Doug Ruskin when he asked how money approved at a town meeting for construction documents had expanded into a complex including bleachers and lights. It was not a good moment for the superintendent as he engaged in whataboutism by pointing out a vague town meeting article concerning transfer station repairs. That’s hardly the way for the superintendent to sell this project. Ruskin has said that he’s not against the need for new fields, he just has environmental and financial concerns about the synthetic field that have not been adequately answered. 

We also find use of the Dover Amendment, a state law that allows schools and educational facilities to bypass zoning if education is the primary purpose of the facility, to be a disingenuous use of that statute. Passing off a sports complex as an educational element is a stretch. Sports are an important complement to education, but are in no way the primary use of the property. This is becoming a widely used tactic by schools across the state to avoid pushback on controversial projects typically involving sports complexes. MVRHS school officials should be looking for buy-in from a majority of Island leaders by providing as much information as possible and working with abutters to ease their concerns. They’ll never get everyone to agree, but they need to work to win support.

Finally, regardless of your position on the field project, it would serve everyone well to turn down the rhetoric a notch. If the MVC approves the synthetic field, it won’t be the end of the Island as we know it. If they reject the field proposal, it won’t be the end of school sports on the Island. The passion surrounding this project is partially to blame for how we’ve gotten to the point of last Thursday’s intolerable Zoom bombing.

We’d like to see both sides come together with the same goals — improve the fields using natural turf. Like the best sports teams, teamwork is a key component to their success. Let’s show some on this project by gathering as much information as we can and sharing it openly.


  1. “We’d like to see both sides come together with the same goals — improve the fields using natural turf.”

    Amen to that!
    One hazard attendant on artificial turf fields that AFAIK has not yet surfaced in the local debate is the not-to-be-ignored potential for serious legal hassles down the road:

    Unrecyclable artificial turf is piling up across the USA, and don’t count on the Netherlands to absorb the mess: “The Synthetic Turf Council, the industry’s main trade group, estimates that 12,000 to 13,000 synthetic-turf fields are in the U.S., with some 1,200 to 1,500 new installations a year. . . . Now these fields are coming out, en masse. In one 2017 report, the Synthetic Turf Council projected that by the end of the decade, at least 750 fields will be replaced annually. The average field contains approximately 40,000 pounds of plastic carpet and 400,000 pounds of infill, according to the report. This means that as much as 330 million pounds of waste could require disposal every year.

    “A parallel turf dilemma is unfolding in soccer-loving Europe. Footage from a recent Dutch documentary by the news program Zembla revealed a so-called turf mountain in the Netherlands formed by discarded playing fields, graphically illustrating the enormity of the waste problem overseas.

    “But one expert who was featured in the documentary said in an email to FairWarning that he believed that the disposal issue is graver on this side of the ocean.

    “It is definitely a MUCH bigger problem in America than in Europe,” says Dennis Andersen, owner of Re-Match, a Danish recycling plant that specializes in synthetic turf. “You are not regulated at all with used turf and have massive amounts lying around.”

    Bury the SynTurf PLAN! Not the PLASTIC!

    • “We are one of the first places to ban plastic bottles in some towns, and this movement has come from some of the Island’s youth. The kids at Plastic Free MV have convinced the three up-Island towns to support the plastic bottle ban, and they have plans to bring the issue before down-Island town meetings, as well. It’s counterintuitive to support this plastic bottle ban and then invite a massive, plastic field into the middle of our landscape.“

      Yes we are one of the first. Did you check to see who the first was? I believe it was Concord MA. Go to their HS website Concord Carlisle and see the beautiful synthetic surface they have.
      Lastly please stop referring to this project as a “massive, plastic field In to the middle of our landscape”. This is a competitive athletic surface. Student athletes COMPETE on this. If you start to look at it like that you will understand when we say that we have never had such a surface in our history and that although many would like, it can’t be done in natural grass due to the usage and small growing season. Virtually every HS and college in New England has learned this. When will we?

      • Thanks for pointing this out about Concord!
        It is a perfect example of how a community with high environmental standards that nonetheless goes for SynTurf fields will end up being used as a poster child to convince doubters or the ignorant of the acceptability of this expensive, unhealthy material.

        • Can you explain “expensive” and “unhealthy” as it pertains to a competitive athletic surface? Keep in mind Apples to apples!
          Are there proper uses of synthetic materials? Or should we choose to not use synthetic products at all?

          • And that is where the naysayers stop answering. They still drive cars. Have carpet in their homes, wear nice synthetic fiber clothing. Bicycles have rubber tires and tubes. I don’t see these folks only walking or only riding horses to work. No horse drawn carriages with wooden wheels.

            A little history lesson. There were no recycling facilities…..and now there are recycling facilities. Where do you think you get those fancy (only 69% from recycled material) Patagonia clothes from.

          • Hi, Steven,
            I agree that we need to do a lot more to get people out of private cars, and I am just as frustrated as you with double standards.

            However, just to be clear regarding recycling of plastic turf fields, these are not turned into Patagonia jackets!! Or anything else, except that a small fraction of the old plastic turf ends up as degraded fields illegally exported to Africa—where, after a few years of play, they become Africans’ environmental problem. Perhaps to be dumped in another African country.

            Currently the only company that recycles plastic turf is in Denmark, and it is a very expensive process. Meanwhile, mountains of turf piles up in communities in the Netherlands. Despite assertions, promises, and even contractual agreements to the contrary, no turf is being recycled in the Netherlands, according to “The Turf Mountain,” by a Dutch news team (in Dutch with English subtitles), available free on YouTube:

    • The Zembla investigative documentary “The Turf Mountain” referenced in the “Atlantic” article is free on Youtube (ca. 36 mins, in Dutch with English subtitles):

      Please watch.
      Did you know?
      ##There is no actual recycling of used turf in the Netherlands.
      ##The two companies that supposedly recycle it, TUF and Vink, break numerous local and international laws in their storage and dumping practices and have been accusing of fraudulent business practices.
      ##They have contracts with municipalities and others to recycle the turf; they take in millions of euros but store or waste-dump the turf.
      ##The companies’ activities depend on connivance or helplessness of local politicians, hence political corruption.
      ##The companies pile and store the rolls of old turf in huge mountains and also in smaller sites such roadside fields, creating unsightly, environmentally poor conditions. TUF and Vink also illegally “export” some of the waste to other European countries, whence much of it ends up in Africa.

      Surely we want to have no part in a trans-Atlantic plastic-waste-dumping chain. Or a North American one, either.
      We do not need to. Because TIABA. There Is A Better Alternative.

      • Can you please explain your TIABA? and do so without mentioning an article from Europe or a heavily funded professional team? Have you talked to Physical educators, Athletic administrators, coaches, and Players in New England area about this subject? I have. If you would, It would change your mind.
        Have you visited a HS athletic facility in the region lately and seen these amazing synthetic surfaces? Do you swim in a pool with chlorine? play tennis on an asphalt court? have you been to the west tisbury town playground? I could go on for days. This project has been vetted for 6 yrs and it has overwhelming support from the user groups. so if you are not a user group please focus your anti plastics agenda somewhere else. thank you

  2. Hey MV Times how about you do some investigative journalism into the dismal Grades our beloved MVRHS gets try this for a start or if that doesn’t work use this one. This must have been required by the state of MA to be shared as it was by the Principal this week.

    While The elitist on this island Argue about a synthetic surface that has been recommended by virtually everyone that has used these fields and know that the grass can’t grow with the usage we have the children suffer! so typical. hey MV times why don’t you do some investigation into this??

  3. The more and more I read, i am in complete and utter horror. How can school officials even allow our student athletes to compete at off island facilities. If turf is unsafe to have on the island we should really set the precedent and stop our kids, the next generation, from the egregious toxic exposures they face in many of the communities outside of ours. No more football games on Nantucket! No more soccer or lacrosse or field hockey for our kids on those toxic, injury riddled surfaces. The heat risk is too high for our kids. The risk of MRSA is too high. PFAS on their skin if they fall down is just too risky. Turf is just too unsafe and we need to make a stand! We as islanders need to band together and stop this madness. For the sake of the children. Please. No more competition off island on turf. Everything I have read on the OB planning board and MVC websites and in the online newspapers says there should be no other other conclusion for the safety of our children. The Field Fund should be leading this effort for the safety of the children. Someone please step up and protect our kids not only here but also when they travel. Ban all island sports from competing off island on turf! We can’t have it both ways!

  4. Many thanks for those links.
    You are of course right that educational standards should be everyone’s top concern. The connections between these standards of achievement and the athletic program and the apportionment of available funds should be thoroughly discussed.

    But I don’t think this means that concern regarding the impact of plastic fields on athletes’, students’, and the surrounding community’s health is elitist.
    RE “the grass can’t grow with the usage,” this is not the conclusion of the American Society for Testing and Materials:
    “A dense, uniform, smooth, and vigorously growing natural turfgrass sports field provides the ideal and preferred playing surface for most outdoor field sports.”

    Nor of the NFL Players Association, whose president states:
    “Climate and weather are not barriers to natural grass practice or game fields. Cold-climate teams like the Packers, Steelers and Browns successfully maintain natural grass fields. . . . Agronomically, natural grass field surfaces are possible everywhere.”

  5. “Finally, regardless of your position on the field project, it would serve everyone well to turn down the rhetoric a notch.” George, I find this statement hypocritical and laughable since you’re doing the very same thing you ask supporters not to! You have NO facts, have done NO research, yet you come out against the high school’s plan AND weren’t even editor when the MV Times supported the plan…. George, here’s a link to a facility that recycles turf fields. They can recycle 1,000 fields a year.

    Regarding the school’s enactment of the dover, here’s a link for you. It’s the OB town attorney telling Ewell Hopkins (Chairman of the OB Planning Board) he’s way outside the scope of his authority. it’s truly NO wonder MVRHS enacted it… The dover is there to protect schools from town entities that overstep their authority and the OB town attorney has stated the OB Planning Board is WAY over reaching their authority. That’s a fact George.

    Regarding your statement “As for the private donors who remain anonymous, we find that questionable. If this is a worthy project, it’s something that school officials should be able to sell to taxpayers and the member towns should fund out of their obligation to the public schools.” Did you say that about the MV Museum or the MV Arena or the many many privately funded projects on MV? Are they not worthy projects? Since my family is a private donor to this project, I will wait to send a check for the turf once it clears the MVC, just like we (and thousands of others) did for the Arena renovations.

    George, you can have your opinion on the proposed plans but to say the school hasn’t been transparent just means you haven’t been listening, researching or paying attention. This debate has been going on for more than 6 years and every aspect of this current plan has been vetted if you just took the time to read any of the info presented or shown up to any of the hundreds of meetings on this. Shame on you for speaking on behalf of the paper and not doing a modest amount of research. While you may not care, I’m canceling my subscription to the times.

    Joe Mikos
    Proud parent of 2 varsity athletes
    Proud OB resident
    President of MV Youth Hockey
    President of MV Youth Lacrosse

  6. Thanks again for posting in a vacuum. The Green Bay packers have heating under their field and Stitched more than 2500 miles of synthetic fibers into the Kentucky bluegrass. Maybe we can ask the taxpayers for heating. And we need to have a natural turf company on retainer to replace the torn up grass on a saturday after a Friday night game. That’s how the NFL does it! Please find out what those clubs spend annually on their fields and report back to the towns and tell the taxpayers what the annual impact will be for them to have nice green NFL fields because you make it sound free and easy. Neither of which are true but it fits your argument.

    • Hi, Steven,
      Thanks for the additional info on the technology of NFL fields.
      I do not argue that either sports field alternative is “free and easy.”
      On the contrary, everyone should understand and acknowledge that both alternatives involve significant investment and operation/maintenance outlays.
      It is proponents of SynTurf who hold out the promise of a cheap, maintenance-free system. This is not supported by available data on comparative maintenance costs:

  7. The Cleveland Browns have 40 miles of underground heating system installed to keep the root systems from freezing. And they have a series of boilers and sophisticated control system to make all of that work.

  8. Katherine
    Turf fields are safer than grass for the players and handle the usage load of three grass fields. The field Huntress associates designed with the two inch shock pad reduces concussions by fifty percent over a grass field. To try to compare a professional footvall field to a high school field is just rediculous. The Baltimore Ravens replace fifteen percent of the damaged soid sfter ever game. Dobyou think the island towns sre going to approve a line item of five million dollars per yesr and an additional twenty full time employers to have a grass field. If you would stop getting your information from the Field Fund we could have a reasonable conservation

    • Hi, Terry:

      Please document your assertions regarding safety—from unbiased sources.
      I do my own research.
      I do not “get my information from the Field Fund.”
      There is no basis for such a statement. It is just a drive-by insult.
      Oddly enough, there are no comments whatsoever regarding my detailed “fact-checking” letter published in the Times two weeks ago. So it looks as though you are not able to refute the results of my research and fact checking.

      • Ms. Scott. Nobody has commented on your letter to the editor because that is not allowed by the newspaper. This is so exhausting. But that is also the point. This process of contradictory information. Some real and some not has been going on for years. Nothing has changed. The HS still needs a track and the fields are in bad shape. And almost all of the data I read presented against this project does not directly compare the materials proposed in this project to the referenced items. Over and over again. Truly a character assassination to the project. But like I have said previously. You can find a snippet here and there and everywhere on the internet to support your case. Doesn’t make the conclusion correct.

  9. To Joe Mikos…your comments directed at George Brennan are inaccurate. He and the MV Time have access to facts, research and whether he was the editor of the Times a few years ago is not of consequence. He is the editor now. The questions surrounding private donors have been around since the beginning and in the ensuing years no one has stepped forward to state they are a donor. The lack of financial facts when asking a community of taxpayers to commit to a multi million dollar project is irresponsible at best.

    To Terry Donahue….your statement needs sources. You state a reasonable conversation could be had if someone stopped listening to the Field Fund, that’s inaccurate. Katherine cited several resources other than the Field Fund, who by the way has science behind their information. And have cited their resources from the beginning.

    • Susan, my comments to George are facts. Go ahead, click the links and read. Please make sure to do some research on the most current types of field, infill and shock pad. They’re all relevant since we’re NOT building the same type of field the NFL plays on. But I’m sure you know that already.. lol

    • Let’s make something clear. From the beginning this has been represented as a private funding endeavor. Where is the leap to taxpayer funded project. Taxpayers have paid to get the project this far. Yes. That is how these projects work! But nobody is asking taxpayers to build the track, field, bathrooms etc. The only people referring to this as a taxpayer funded construction are people opposed to the project. Please. I beg you to show where the project applicant is asking for taxpayers to fund the construction. Once and for all please show it or stop your Trumpian misinformation campaign.

      Let’s also be clear. As far as I can tell through the massive amount of materials I have read, the applicant has supported their claims with all that has been asked. You are clearly implying that they are lying! Why do you imply they are lying or they have bad science behind what they say? I would like to see your sources from major journals. Science, Nature, the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, The Lancet or Popular Science on these topics. The reality is you can find whatever you are looking for on the internet to support your position. All reasonable people know this. Such a waste to list references that don’t make apples to apples comparisons. But they do tell the story you want to tell and the sheep believe it. How did this all become such a crazy lobby? Just give the school a huge budget and you get better fields. Why not? Because the taxpayers won’t have it. Everyone already complains bitterly about what it cost to run a school on an island. But that is also why the mantra is spoken over and over that this is on the taxpayers backs. Nice trick! But I am calling you out on this! Please reference the school committee meeting, newspaper article, fincom meeting, literally any public forum where the school committee has asked taxpayers to fund construction. I would expect a very public apology to the entire island if you are unable to produce this.

    • Hi, Do you deny that the recycle facility in the Netherlands exists? Operational this past June! They even reference the scary mountain that Ms. Scott references in the link Joe provided. But alas. If you only tell half the story it remains scary. And please do not represent in a presentation to the MVC that no such facility exists. It clearly does. I hope someone interrupts any presenter that does so as stating a falsehood. There are enough falsehoods flying about.

  10. Repeating “Let’s be clear” doesn’t actually mean what follows is clear.
    At least $350,000 of taxpayers monies have been spent to produce a one-sided sales pitch. The drawn-out MVC process is also costs actual dollars.

    Re ” the applicant has supported their claims with all that has been asked,” my reading of the Huntress report was that they often avoid the difficult questions This was why I did my own research. For example, Huntress’s tables comparing installation and maintenance costs do not align with info in **unbiased** sources. Regarding data produced by Dr. Laura Green, it is so eye-glazing that a normal person can only speculate on how many $$$ are being spent to pay people to pore over minutiae that lead down a rabbit hole and don’t confront the principal actual issues that the public sees clearly: Health, scale, necessity, environmental impacts, financial impacts.

  11. Have you asked to see the contract the applicant has with Dr Green? The MVC has. All contracts are public record.

    The 350k you referenced. That has been open and transparent and voted on. And you don’t get a municipal project without it. Turf or no turf. This is an attempt to muddy the waters. As for a one sided sales pitch. Let me see. A Consultant was hired as required by law. The consultant works on both grass and turf fields. The consultant concluded based upon experience that 1 turf field would be needed based upon usage. Would you prefer if the applicant spent taxpayer money and ignored the people they paid to give them the information? Saying it is a one sided sales pitch is not appropriate. You don’t like the plan and are throwing stones. The applicant can’t go with 2 plans and say “pick one” They pick what they believe is the best, vote on it and put it forward. Has everyone forgotten that this plan also includes a new grass field and a track and a place for handicap access bathrooms and accessibility? Not 2 turf fields. 1 of each.

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