Field project demands thorough review

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To the Editor:

These are NOT the words or language we would expect to hear from the Island planning body charged with protecting our land and water and leading the island’s climate action efforts:

“I remain concerned about the climate change and environmental impacts, and I have to work my way through that.” 

“You could take the plastic that we all use in one week and it’s more than this field will ever be.”

“I don’t think it is inconsistent to be against single-use plastics but to be for something like this.”

Last week’s Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) meetings demonstrated the disconnect between the environmental rhetoric of the MVC and its decision making criteria. Six of the seven commissioners participating in Tuesday’s meeting made it clear that they intend to approve this proposal with minimal conditions, likely on June 24. There was little indication that any of the letters and testimony from 20 local environmental organizations and countless other concerned citizens — or our years of field work — impacted their decision making. 

After four hours of deliberations, here are some examples of what was NOT discussed:

  • The myriad of climate and environmental impacts associated with a 2.5-acre plastic field both here and on communities far beyond ours.
  • The peer review and the plastic field testing results.
  • The plastic field’s siting within a Zone II Wellhead protection area, over the Island’s sole-source aquifer.
  • The impacts of four-plus acres of additional impermeable surfaces this project adds to the campus.
  • The proposed grass field’s antiquated field design and outdated maintenance protocols (that will likely lead to poor performance and requests for more plastic fields). 
  • The game field’s incorrect orientation (players will be staring into the afternoon sun).
  • Whether a heat policy will be imposed, and how that will impact usage.
  • The anonymous money funding this project.
  • The broad significance of installing a plastic field in our environmentally sensitive community, and how that will encourage the proliferation of these fields elsewhere.
  • The lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the review process.
  • How a plastic field will conflict with the MVC’s climate work, Island plan, goal to reduce fossil fuel use to 0 percent by 2040 (plastic is a petroleum product!), and other initiatives.
  • The fact that the town of Oak Bluffs is severely constrained in its official oversight due to yet another zoning-exempt project in its town. 
  • How Phase One of this project impacts the (nonexistent) master planning of the MVRHS campus and Oak Bluffs’ efforts to plan the Southern Tier of their town. 


More points worthy of your consideration:

False choice. A commissioner observed that she felt like she was having to choose between doing what was right for the environment and what would be right for school kids. But it’s a false choice. Kids deserve a livable climate. They deserve clean drinking water. They deserve a quality school building with quality academic education. And they deserve to play on a surface that is actually safe for their bodies — grass. The one-sided conversation coming from MVRHS should NOT be misinterpreted as widespread youth support for plastic, as the hearing chair did. The fact that MVRHS students opposed to it haven’t felt comfortable speaking up should be a red flag. And there has been plenty of testimony from parents and athletes not yet in high school who do not want their children playing on plastic. 

 

Money. Trip Barnes and Ben Robinson were right to question the project’s financial viability. It was shocking to hear other commissioners let the fact that anonymous donors are funding the project go unquestioned, and that we should just take it on “faith” that they will provide funding ($500,000 to $1,000,000-plus) for every system replacement in perpetuity. It’s hard to believe this is the same body that Sacked the Mac years ago. And strange that multiple commissioners mentioned that there were no alternatives for funding if plastic wasn’t approved. Did the nonexistent, anonymous donors somehow state that they would only fund the project if it includes plastic? 

 

Plastic or bust? One commissioner drafted language for an all-grass condition, but it was batted down. According to other commissioners and the MVRHS, an all-grass condition would be the equivalent of an application denial. Really? It was expressly stated that the primary goal of this project was to replace the failing track, and provide new, properly engineered fields for student athletes, and ADA-compliant walkways and facilities. But at the end of the day, the only thing the applicant is fighting for is the plastic field.

 

“Unknowns.” Offers from the MVRHS stipulating that the school will keep the MVC apprised of injuries, disposal options aside from recycling, and test well results showing contamination, etc. are disingenuous at best. They are designed to give commissioners cover to approve a system KNOWN to cause all these problems. None of the MVRHS’ lovely-sounding offers will do our community any good once the field is in. We will be stuck with it, along with all the injuries, solid waste, plastic pollution, and contamination that come with it. We should learn from Chatham, Wellesley, Natick, and Wayland that it’s far less costly to avoid contamination in the first place than to try to remediate it after the fact. 

Trash. The hearing chair showed willful ignorance when he downplayed the amount of waste associated with a plastic field. And it’s not going to be a choice between whether the failed field components get recycled in a facility in New Bedford or New York, as one commissioner said. They will be incinerated. Or dumped. Plastic field recycling — just like plastic recycling in general — is the ultimate greenwashing campaign. Brilliant questioning by commissioners during the public hearings forced industry reps to admit as much, so everyone knows that a vote to approve a plastic field is a vote for 30-plus tons of plastic and foam trash every time it needs replacing. And sending our trash to “youth facilities” in Pennsylvania, as the MVC chair suggested, is not repurposing, it’s dumping. Privileged communities have been doing it for years. 

Goose poop. One commissioner seemed to suggest that playing on a failed plastic field was comparable to playing on one with goose poop. Anyone who has experienced a failed plastic field — dangerously hard, plastic fibers shedding, infill migrating everywhere — knows that this comparison is beyond irresponsible. Not to mention, goose poop can be managed! The Field Fund recently invested in a solar-powered decoy. There are tons of items like it on the market for those actually trying to find solutions.

What about facts? Commissioners did acknowledge that the carbon footprint of a plastic field is larger than that of a grass field, that the MVRHS had inflated its usage numbers and that we actually have enough fields to support the high school’s needs. Many commissioners seem to doubt whether we can grow safe, well-used, well-draining grass fields here — all they had to do was check out W.T. or O.B. school fields this spring. The Field Fund has never limited their use, or asked for them to be closed. But strangely, none of those basic facts seemed to factor into the conversation. 

This is where the rubber meets the road. Where in this review is all the environmental advocacy and stewardship that we see out of the MVC? The MVC, which we know and love for its rhetoric, doesn’t seem to be bringing any of that to bear in its decisionmaking process. This application begs for a thorough review. Please join us in demanding that it gets one. 

Mollie Doyle, Dardy Slavin, and Rebekah Thomson
The Field Fund