“We are officially under construction as of today,” announced Amity School Supt. Dr. Jennifer Byars at the March 8 Amity Board of Education meeting. She said the crews had started digging, working on the pole vault pit area, which is separate from the football field, and has a separate permit.
But crews apparently also started removing sod from the football field, and the town’s land use office intervened, saying the town had not received the required warranty from the manufacturer of the material to be installed that guarantee that the materials they use do not contain any PFAS chemicals. That warranty was a condition of the Zoning Commission’s special exception permit for “excavation, removal, filling, grading, and processing of earth products.”
The school district is planning to replace the football stadium with a crumb-rubber based surface, that will allow them to use the field year-round.
“The Board of Education is committed to providing the students of Amity with an exceptional comprehensive education in Academics, the Arts, and Athletics,” Dr. Byars said when the district applied for the permit. “This process began because the athletic facilities –particularly the stadium which includes the track and field have not been upgraded or improved for over 30 years. The playing surfaces of both areas are significantly below the standards of other high schools throughout the state of Connecticut.”
A district-wide referendum in December 2019 provided the funding for the project, with residents in Bethany and Orange voting in favor, but Woodbridge residents did not. In fact, a group of them — who preferred not to be identified — sought a moratorium to allow both the state and the federal authorities to pass their own PFAS regulations before the project is allowed to go forward. In December they withdrew the lawsuit, reportedly for a lack of money.
Last July, the Zoning Commission had granted the district the permit “subject to the condition that any existing warranty between the Amity Regional School District #5 Board of Education and Field Turf shall memorialize the guarantee in the letter dated October 25, 2019, from Darren Gill, senior vice president of Marketing & Innovation of Field Turf that states, ‘We are aware of media reports around the potential presence of trace amounts of PFAS chemicals in some artificial turf fields. In light of these reports, we have worked closely with our supplier of artificial turf filaments to verify that our products do not contain those chemicals. Our supplier has confirmed that their products are free of PFAS, PFOs and fluorine. We care deeply about the safety of our surfaces and those who use them and we will continue to vigilantly monitor our products to ensure that they remain free of these substances.’”
Zoning Enforcement Officer Kristine Sullivan has since confirmed that she has received the warranty, and will present it to the Zoning Commission at its regular meeting April 5 to determine that it meets the condition of the permit.
When asked about the issue of groundwater protection, and whether it had been considered for this permit, Sullivan said groundwater protection is under the purview of the Zoning Commission, while the Inland-Wetlands Agency’s concern is surface water. When the application was presented to Inland-Wetlands last spring, they found the stadium field to be outside the 100-foot upland review area, and hence outside its purview.
In a letter to the athletic community, Dr. Byars said she the district was determined to advance the construction timeline “in an effort to complete the project prior to the TPZ approval expiration in July 2021 and to further ensure that the facility will be ready for school sports in the fall.” She said although the district could request an extension on the TPZ approval, if necessary, “we cannot be certain about such a result.”
The Woodbridge Conservation Commission, meanwhile, has expressed its own concerns regarding the installation of a crumb rubber field. The commission sent a letter to the Board of Selectmen and the Amity district, asking them to halt construction until the Environmental Protection Agency completes its research on PFAS chemicals. Commission Chairman Jason Morrill used DEEP maps which show the area as an endangered species habitat. The map did not identify which species, and he submitted a request for clarification to DEEP.
Morrill also expressed frustration over the fact that the Conservation Commission was not informed of the pending application when the town was first approached. He only became aware of it when construction vehicles started showing up near the high school track.
Opponents of artificial turf meanwhile have asked the town to adopt an ordinance prohibiting the use of such materials. The Ordinance Committee, a subcommittee of the Board of Selectmen, has looked at two potential ordinances, one prohibiting only man-made materials, while the other also prohibits some organic alternatives such as cork. They kicked the issue back to the Board of Selectmen for discussion at its regular meeting April 14.
Town Counsel Jerry Weiner stated at a meeting of the Ordinance Committee that any such ordinance, if adopted, would not be retroactive and would not affect the construction under way. If the selectmen want to proceed with any one of the proposed ordinances, they will schedule a hearing for the public to weigh in.
By Bettina Thiel – Orange Town News Correspondent