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Plans for new soccer/lacrosse fields raise health, financial concerns

Frank Wojciechowski
Members of the boys soccer team run through a practice at Sayreville War Memorial High School in Parlin on August 19.

The Holmdel Township Committee is pushing an expensive, ill-conceived project for two new artificial-turf, regulation-size soccer/lacrosse fields to be built in addition to the 12 grass fields now at Cross Farm. The proposed fields will be used almost exclusively by private travel soccer and lacrosse organizations, which serve many out-of-town players at the most elite levels.

The Township Committee is attempting to borrow $3.3 million to get started on the project, but the finished cost will be much higher. The $3.3 million figure was developed assuming no lights, unpaved parking and port-a-potties. I estimate by the time the project is done, it will cost taxpayers $1,000 per family.

The mayor has stated that the new borrowing can be funded using the existing Open Space tax, implying it’s essentially free to the taxpayers. Why not reduce taxes instead? The idea that “user fees” will offset the cost is a distraction — children’s groups with up to 50 percent out-of-town members pay no fees.

I have concerns about health effects on players and the nearby Swimming River Reservoir, which provides drinking water to much of Monmouth County. Because of injuries, key players from the U.S. women’s national soccer team sued over being forced to play on artificial turf fields when the men’s teams were playing on grass. The fields are made largely from tiny pieces of recycled tires, which contain zinc, selenium, lead and cadmium, as well as a host of organic compounds, many of which cause cancer.

When the fields begin to degrade and release chemicals, they will have to be removed and replaced at further taxpayer expense. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently began a study of environmental health questions of artificial turf fields. Why are we starting an expensive project before seeing results from this study?

A small group of residents gathered over 700 signatures in a few days on a protest petition to seek a referendum. Despite being presented with this petition and listening to lengthy and overwhelming negative public comment on the plan, the Township Committee voted unanimously to approve it without a word of debate.

With no other choice, the residents’ group (now called “Preserve Holmdel”) raised money for an attorney, who responded to the Township’s lawyer and filed suit to prevent the bond ordinance from moving forward, as the Township had threatened to do regardless of the status of the petition. The petition was recently resubmitted after addressing technical issues, and the township clerk has certified it meets the guidelines for referendum.

As parents we all recognize the importance of sports for our kids. My kids played sports, and I did too growing up. Holmdel already offers terrific fields, and our kids have achieved tremendous success in athletics. These new artificial fields are not about that; they are about making it easier for a handful of coaches to hold night practices into the colder months and tournaments for a small group of older elite kids, mostly from out of town. If it goes forward, Holmdel taxpayers will be footing the bill. Let’s stop this for the sake of our kids and our wallets.

Tom Wood

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