Artificial turf a hot issue in Haddonfield

By ROBIN POTTER

This hurried decision to provide $500,000 of taxpayer funds for artificial turf raises serious questions about the priorities of the school board and borough commissioners. At a time when the town seeks to curtail or eliminate critical services to hold down taxes, this is surely an extravagance.

There are many unanswered questions. According to a University of Connecticut 2010 study, storm water runoff from artificial turf is high in zinc, a chemical highly toxic to aquatic life. Have we considered the cost of managing surface runoff to prevent it from entering nearby Hopkins Pond? Does the $1 million installation cost estimate include ancillary costs such the wooden platforms needed during graduation and other community occasions to protect the turf “carpet” from punctures and tears. Have we considered the replacement cost for the turf “carpet” when it must be disposed of as hazardous waste? Do we cancel our annual July Fourth fireworks celebration once the newly turfed high school fields are off-limits?

Perhaps most disturbing to me personally as chair of the Shade Tree Commission, the town’s leaders have prioritized installing artificial greenery over replacing the hundreds of trees dying from bacterial leaf scorch. Haddonfield faces an imminent tree cover crisis –16 per cent of our street trees, approximately 1,600 trees, are dying now, yet this year the town mustered the funds to plant fewer than 25 trees. If we continue to cut down trees without replacing them, we will deforest Haddonfield.

I’m sure other taxpayers will cite equally valid pressing needs for the funds being dedicated to installing these premium playing fields. While I understand the importance of good playing surfaces for our high school athletes and applaud the generosity of the athletes’ parents, there are other, lower cost solutions to be found. Commissioners and the school board should revisit their decision and reject this unnecessary expenditure of funds.