North Cowichan municipal council voted last Wednesday to award the $1,363,300 contract to construct the artificial turf at the Sherman Road soccer field to Stone Pacific Excavating.
The project has been in the works for several months as council looked into the benefits and detriments of artificial turf, and that discussion continued last Wednesday, even though it had already been decided that the field would be built, and all that was left was to award the tender.
Dr. Deirdre O’Neill, a naturopathic
doctor and self-described "soccer mom" from the Cowichan Valley made a last-ditch plea to council not to go ahead with the turf, citing environment and health concerns due to heavy metals in the tire crumbs that are used as artificial dirt.
"This seems counter to what families in the Cowichan Valley are working towards," she said.
The discussion of the turf has included seeking input from Island Health, and Medical Health Officer Paul Hasselback was present at the council meeting to provide some final comments. He said that lead had in
fact been an issue with first-and second-generation surface-coverings, but not with the third generation.
Levels of metals in the turf are considered safe by Health Canada, and the risk of injury is comparable to that of grass pitches. The injuries tend to be different to those suffered on grass, but not more frequent.
"It is elevated," he said of the injury concern. "But it is not elevated very much."
At the urging of Coun. Rob Douglas, municipal staff had looked into an alternate surface, Nike Grind, which is made from
ground-up running shoes rather than recycled tires. But at $218,000 more, it was determined to be too costly.
Longtime Cowichan Valley Soccer Association president Bill Keserich also addressed council, explaining that the association will rotate all the teams through the artificial turf, so that no one team or age group will spend significant time on the turf. He also noted that Cowichan teams have already been playing soccer on other associations’ artificial turfs for 10 years, and that out of a base of thousands of players and parents, the CVSA has received just
one email expressing concerns about the artificial surface.
Joyce Behnsen was the lone councillor to vote against awarding the contract to Stone Pacific. Tall poplar trees at the soccer park started coming down on Monday morning.
According to the municipality, they were close to the end of their lifespan, and the excavation for the field would have damaged them anyway.
It was recommended that the non-native Lombardy poplars be replaced by a native species, such as Garry oak, when they are replanted.