Synthetic Turf Causes Community Concerns

In June, the Chapel Hill Town Council agreed to move forward with new synthetic turf for the Homestead Park soccer field. But since that decision, community members have expressed concerns about dangerous carcinogens in the rubber that could endanger the athletes, contaminate storm water and harm the environment.

In response to these concerns, Parks and Recreation Director Jim Orr released a “Frequently Asked Questions” document. He addressed many of these points during the June town meeting, including the main reason for the project.

“There’s a variety of reasons, and one main reason is that you can play on the surface 365 days a year,” Orr said.

A popular concern centered on the turf’s chemical make up. The proposed brand for the Homestead Park is called EPDM – a rubber derivative that is different from the SBR crumb rubber commonly associated with caner-causing chemicals. SBR crumb rubber is the most widely used infill in synthetic sports fields and is already installed at Cedar Falls Park in Chapel Hill.

The EPDM infill is a newer product that doesn’t contain tires or the oils in other synthetic blends. Chapel Hill will be among the first in North Carolina to make the additional investment in this new product.

“EPDM particles, the infill, is 100 percent recyclable, and it is also not the crumb rubber that you’ve heard some concerns about,” Orr said.

Councilwoman Jessica Anderson asked the question that many community members have been asking themselves.

“I know that the crumb rubber is a different thing, but what’s the status with the safety studies for EPDM and is there a way we can wait to know about the potential safety issues?” Anderson said.

Orr said that tests for the turf’s chemicals are still underway and could take another two to four years to gain comprehensive results.

Jeff Charles, the chair of the Transportation Connectivity Board, spoke at the meeting and called upon his 35 years of experience as a board certified toxicologist.

“The type of study that you’re talking about being done, with actual kids playing ion the field and whether they develop issues or whatever, are some of the more difficult studies to run. And after the two, four or eight-year period they take to get this done, they still may not come out with a definitive answer,” Charles said.

Emails to board members and the Parks and Recreation department asked about updated safety studies, another sentiment echoed by Anderson.

“I definitely would hate for us to find out in two years that there is a major health concern. And is EPDM similar to crumb rubber?” Anderson asked.

Orr explained that the chemical make up is fundamentally different from crumb rubber.

“It’s a virgin rubber,” Orr said. “It is not from tires like the tire-crumb rubber that is under concern. It’s also encapsulated by the scientific name that the abbreviation EPDM refers to. So it’s 100 percent recyclable and it’s the next-level generation of infill.”

In the document he emailed to the town, Orr also addressed the financial benefits of the project.

“It would allow additional revenue to be earned as far as rentals for the six months in the past that we wouldn’t be renting the facilities,” Orr said.

Currently, the town and two soccer associations, Triangle United and Rainbow Soccer Association, are working to draft a Memorandum of Understanding to proceed as partners, followed by a Performance Agreement that will spell out the financial commitments of all parties. The soccer associations have agreed to pay $800,000 to fund the new field that will draw an estimated 42,000 additional people to the fields. Councilwoman Maria Palmer urged the town to move forward with the project.

“You have kids who are desperate for exercise and desperate for recreational opportunities,” Palmer said. “So if we’re going to do this, we have to do this when we have money in hand and when we have these three organizations helping us before they decide to invest their $800,000 in Chatham, Durham or Hillsborough,” Palmer said.

Orr said that it’s unlikely the soccer associations would financially support $500,000 renovations to keep the existing grass field. Maintaining the grass field also incurs costs, Orr said, and forces the town to close the field during the wet winter months.

To address drainage concerns, including flooding and water quality, the Parks and Recreation staff will be partnering with the Stormwater staff to asses the area, Orr wrote in the email.

A copy of the “Homestead Field Conversion to Synthetic Turf Q&A” can be found below.

Homestead Field Conversion to Synthetic Turf Q&A

Question: What is the current scope of the staff’s work regarding the Homestead grass to turf conversion?
Staff Response: Staff is working to improve the year-round performance and playability of the fields with the resources available and found some great community partners, Triangle United and Rainbow Soccer Association, to help with this effort. Before coming to the Council in June 2016, the partners evaluated different turf options, including what was installed at Cedar Falls Park in 2013. The Cedar Falls Park turf is SBR (styrene butadiene rubber) crumb rubber infill, derived from scrap car and truck tires that are ground up and recycled. SBR crumb rubber is the most widely used infill in the synthetic sports field and landscape market.

EPDM infill — proposed for the Homestead Park fields – is a newer product that uses virgin rubber (as opposed to recycled materials) and removes some of the unknowns from the product (such as oils from tires.) EPDM stands for ethylene propylene diene monomer. The differences between EPDM infill and SBR crumb rubber led to the soccer associations’ request and the staff’s recommendation to use the EPDM infill, which the Council resolved to do at its June 20th meeting. Chapel Hill will be among the first in North Carolina to make the additional investment in this new product.

Question: What does the process look like between now and the potential start of field renovation?
Staff Response: The Town and the two soccer associations, Triangle United and Rainbow Soccer Association, will first execute a Memorandum of Understanding to proceed as partners in the field conversion project. Next, they will negotiate and execute a Performance Agreement that will spell out the financial and other commitments of all parties, consistent with the resolution adopted by Council on June 20th, 2016. A formal bid notice for the construction portion of the project will be published after the performance agreement is in place. The bid award will need to be approved by Council before moving forward. Council will be apprised of progress toward each of these milestones.

Question: Would it be possible to install the same drainage system used for synthetic turf fields but install grass over it instead of artificial material?
Staff Response: The drainage system for synthetic turf would not work for a natural turf field because synthetic turf is installed over a layer of impervious surface and the drainage system is designed for this. The Town could still renovate the fields with natural turf. There are a few things to consider:
· The renovation would have to take place during the growing season, which is May to September. The project would include re-grading the field, removing unsuitable soil and bringing in appropriate soil/sand base, renovation of irrigation system, installing a complete field drainage system and re-sodding the fields.
· The estimated cost for the project is $500,000 and it is unlikely that the soccer associations would financially participate. In that case, the Town would incur all of the project costs.
· There would be recurring monthly maintenance such as mowing, fertilization and herbicide applications and re-sodding worn areas that wouldn’t exist with synthetic turf.
· The fields would still be closed six months out of the year like the Town’s other natural turf fields (Southern Community Park, for example). This is to allow the turf fields to rejuvenate while staff implements an aggressive off-season maintenance program.
· The user organizations would find it very difficult to find adequate field space during the six months the fields would be closed and the Town would not generate any revenue during that time.

Question: Is there a way to estimate the increased usage by the community of the Homestead fields after conversion to synthetic turf?
Staff Response: By combining the estimated use of the area’s two largest soccer associations, YMCA, lacrosse teams, and other small groups, a projected 42,000 additional users will participate in games and practices on these fields per year, compared to the current usage on the natural surfaces.

Question: What is being done to assess and address stormwater issues (flooding, water quality, etc.) related to this project?
Staff Response: Stormwater and Parks & Recreation staff have visited the site together and have discussed site requirements. Stormwater staff will provide the project requirements for inclusion in the bid specifications when the project reaches that stage.

Question: Has the federal government provided any guidance about the use of synthetic turf for playing fields?
Staff Response: At this point, the federal government’s research is focused only on SBR crumb rubber. This research is still in progress and results are not expected for several years. Some of the resources they have made available in the meantime are listed below.
· Federal Research on Recycled Tire Crumbs Used on Playing Fields
· EPA Tire Crumb Questions and Answers
· Federal Research Action Plan on Recycled Tire Crumb Used on Playing Fields

Question: How are other agencies approaching their field renovation projects?
Staff Response: The public concerns expressed about SBR crumb rubber have not deterred other agencies from moving forward with new installations. Our staff has not found any recent or future turf field projects in North Carolina moving forward with any material other than SBR crumb rubber. This includes the following: UNC-Chapel Hill (intramural fields and practice fields), City of Asheville (five fields), Buncombe County Schools (six high school fields), the Town of Cary (two fields), and Olympia High School in Charlotte.

Carrboro Town Leaders Ready for First Meeting of 2015

The Board of Alderman is setting up for a very busy 2015 with their first meeting of the new year, on Tuesday night. There are several large agenda items for leaders of the Town of Carrboro.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle says she is expecting to see new developments concerning the Martin Luther King Jr. Park Master Plan.

“I do think citizens that are interested in the Martin Luther King Jr. Park will be interested in seeing what kinds of proposals are being made,” she says. “A couple of concept designs are going to be coming forward to us, after some community gatherings where we received a lot of input.”

The board will also be presented with information regarding the state of the transit system and suggestions to increase sustainability going forward.

“Every year [the transit system] is a huge project to grapple our hands around,” she says. “It’s one of the hallmarks of our community, but it is one that continues to increase in costs.”

The presentation is expected to be very similar to the arrangement brought before the Chapel Hill Town Council, last week.

The transit system is a large budget item, according to Mayor Lavelle, but she says there are several other key areas in building a new budget this year.

She says certain town costs are guaranteed to increase.

“We always have rising health care costs,” she says. “It’s always a given that, whatever our line item is for our employees and health care, that’s always going to go up a little.”

Lavelle says it will be important to see how much revenue the town is able to bring in during tax collection.

“In general, property taxes have stayed the same or gotten better,” she says. “With the hotel and different things, our commercial tax base should look pretty good.”

The mayor adds town leaders typically offer a conservative sales tax estimate, which could lead to additional revenue on top of projections.

The Board of Alderman meeting will be held at the Carrboro Town Hall beginning at 7:30 Tuesday evening and is open to the public.

Commissioners To Update Orange County’s Park Plan

County Commissioners will consider adopting the 2013 Master Parks Plan when the board meets on Tuesday.

This will be the first major update of the County’s parks and recreation plan since 1988.

The plan lists the $2.3 million dollar Blackwood Farm Park outside of Hillsborough as a top priority, along with River Park and a new $6 million dollar athletic facility on Millhouse Road north of Chapel Hill.

The board will also likely authorize the transfer of ownership of the new Buckhorn-Mebane water and sewer utility infrastructure to the City of Mebane.

The project was completed this fall using $5.1 million in revenue from the county’s quarter-cent sales tax to support economic development. It will bring water and sewer service to the Buckhorn-Mebane economic development district, where Japanese candy-maker Morinaga is building its first American factory.

The City of Mebane will provide sewer and water service to the area.

County Commissioners meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road. You can get the full agenda here.

Carrboro Aldermen To Update MLK Park Plan

CARRBORO- Carrboro leaders say its time to update plans for a town park that’s been in the works for more than a decade.

The Board of Aldermen approved the purchase of land at 1120 Hillsborough Road in 1999 and endorsed a master plan for the Martin Luther King Jr. Park back in 2004, but in all those years, there’s never been money available to make that plan a reality.

Anita Jones-McNair directs the town’s Recreation and Parks Department. She told the Aldermen on Tuesday so much time has passed that town needs have changed.

“Ten years is a pretty long time to sit on a plan,” said Jones-McNair. “We’ve had lots of different changes, lots of different requests for all kinds of space that at this time we don’t have any real development for.”

The current plan for the 10 acre park includes a playground, athletic fields, ping pong tables and a sculpture garden, but it does not include the community garden that’s been growing on the site since 2007.

Board members agreed it’s important to incorporate that into the revised park plan. Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell suggested it might also be a chance for the town to consider new recreational options.

“Many of our parks miss the opportunity to address the interests and needs of children older than eight years old, and that was one of the things I thought was really cool about the pump parks,” said Haven-O’Donnell.

Town staffers are looking to hire a consultant to revise the plan based on feedback from residents and elected officials. The Martin Luther King Jr. park is slated for development in 2016.

CH Parks and Rec Sign Up; Ransom Street Sidewalks; Labor Day

CHAPEL HILL – Your Chapel HillParks and Recreation department’s fall programs sign-ups for residents begins September 3 at 8:30 a.m.  For non-residents the sign-up date is September 16.

To register for the fall programs you can either go online with WebTrac by visiting the town of Chapel Hill’s website or in person at the following four locations: Parks and Recreation Administrative Office, Chapel HillCommunity center, HargravesCommunity center, and the Homestead aquatic center.

You can find a link to the sign-up page by clikcing here.


Sidewalk improvements on Ransom Street are scheduled to begin on August 28 weather permitting.  This project will take approximately ten business days to complete.


On September 2 most of the municipal offices will be closed in observance of Labor Day.  There will be no residential or commercial refuse collection; the Monday route will be picked up on Wednesday.

Many offices will be closed including: Chapel Hill community center, Parks and Recreation office, and the Offices of Maintenance Division.

The Public Library will be open from 1p.m to 5p.m

The Landfill and solid waste convenience centers will be closed.

And Chapel Hill transit will not operate.

For more information on town holidays click here.

Chapel Hill Leaders OK Veterans Memorial Concept Plan

CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council endorsed a plan to build a veterans memorial at the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery, but council members say they want more details on how the site will be maintained.

Rusty Edminster grew up in Chapel Hill and remembers when Chapel Hill High used to be on Franklin Street. Like many in his class of 1962, he was called to serve in the Vietnam War. On Monday he asked the Town Council to approve a proposal from a group of his fellow veterans to honor all of Chapel Hill’s military service members.

“I urge you to approve this memorial, because it’s a permanent way for the Town of Chapel Hill to say thank you for the time that veterans and their families sacrifice for the service of not only this community but also the United States,” said Edminster.

A committee of veterans has been working since 2009 to site and design a veteran’s memorial in Chapel Hill. The council on Monday unanimously approved an initial proposal to locate the memorial in the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery off of Fordham Boulevard.

The proposal would transform an existing brick plaza into a tree-lined, stone-paved courtyard with five monuments, each representing a branch of the U.S. Military.

The project will be funded by private contributions. But although support for the plan ran high, many on the council said they wanted more details about the cost of maintaining the memorial, which will be located on town-owned property.

Parks and Recreation Director Butch Kisiah told the council organizers are hoping to raise enough money to cover long-term maintenance.

“One of the ideas with the fundraising is to not only raise enough money to build the memorial, but to have a maintenance fund that would go with it,” said Kisiah. “Right now we’re looking at around $300,000 to make all of this work.”

Matt Czajkowski, the only veteran currently serving on the council, said he’d like to see the town chip in as well.

“If the Town of Chapel Hill can’t at least contribute to the maintenance of this beautiful memorial, then I think that’s shameful,” said Czajkowski. “Surely we can find a little bit of money at least to participate in contributing to the maintenance of this.”

The council voted unanimously to endorse the plan, paving the way for a fundraising campaign led by former council member Jim Merritt and UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor Bruce Runberg.

Click here to find out more about plans for the Chapel Hill Veterans Memorial.