MVC should prioritize natural grass over synthetic turf


To the Editor:

I understand that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission may take a vote on June 24 regarding DRI 352-M2, the MVRHS’s application to create, in effect, a new sportsplex at the high school.

It’s a big project, with many parts that require their own debates. So far, however, the main focus has been the installation of a large synthetic turf field. On June 10, the MVC’s Land Use Planning Committee held a Zoom meeting in which participants discussed the benefits and detriments of the proposed field:

Watching this Zoom meeting was quite upsetting. Participants seemed to repeatedly trivialize the significant detriments of this large synthetic field, while sidelining or even ignoring the benefits of a grass field, stating or implying that there is no alternative to plastic turf. Some commissioners seemed to wilfully obfuscate the clear difference between high-tech plastics whose use no one would question (such as in modern surgery) and 220 tons of plastic grass that will be a challenge to dispose of and for which there is a viable alternative. One commissioner stated that his septic tank has more PFAS than the synthetic field is projected to produce, so this makes PFAS a nonissue. This is questionable logic, not least because harmful PFAS accumulate in the environment. One commissioner said that if we don’t like the plastic turf, we can always install a grass field in 10 years! One commissioner describes plastic turf as “the best tool for the job” — namely, delivering the best experience to high school athletes and coaches. 

Indeed, the range of commissioners’ vision and their sense of responsibility seemed to privilege this small group, and to pass easily over the interests of thousands of other stakeholders and pressing broader issues: 

  • the Vineyard’s own ecology (our aquifer; PFAS); 
  • our commitment to environmental goals — such as reduction of plastic in the environment and fostering biosphere carbon capture through regenerative landscaping — that have impact beyond our shores and express our values; 
  • and even the commission’s own role as an important policymaker on a high-profile island that many look to an environmental model. 

“Land Use” in this case extends beyond the obvious that the best use of this patch of land is as a sports field. We rightly ask, “How will synthetic versus natural turf use this piece of land and what lies under it and around it?” The commission has heard extensive testimony on the feasibility and fitness for the purpose of well-designed, engineered, and maintained grass fields. Furthermore, the ground conditions at the high school are eminently well-suited for the creation of tough, modern fields — not your parents grass fields. The commission could approve the project as a whole, conditioned on use of grass for all playing fields.

When the full commission votes on this DRI, I hope it will take a broader view of the significance and knock-on impacts of this project than I perceived them doing. 

Katherine Scott