Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Artificial Turf Controversy Rears Its Ugly Head Once Again - Hunter's Point Waterfront Project in Queens

(Left) An Economic Development Corp. Artist’s rendering shows Hunters Point South development with 11-acre waterfront park. The park is intended to be linked to the existing and future waterfront parks at Queens West just to the north, creating one continuous park that extends from Anable Basin to and along Newtown Creek.

Controversy over the Bloomberg administration's policy to continue to cover hundreds of acres of city parkland and school yards with petroleum-based artificial turf fields instead of natural grass has reared its ugly head once again, this time in a proposed 11-acre park in Hunter's Point South Queens. While EDC's project renderings on their website are clearly labeled for active sports: "The Green - Active Recreation Multi-purpose Sports Field," at a November 19 public meeting the phrase Active Recreation Multi-purpose Sports Field language did not appear in any of the 40 powerpoint presentation slides. Only the word Green appeared. The city is trying to sell the 55,000 square foot artificial turf oval, in part, as a passive "commons" to be used for mixed uses - both active and non-active recreation such as passive sports, picnicking, frisbee, and general lawn use. However artificial turf surfaces are not desirable for passive uses for a number of reasons.

(Left) Economic Development Corp.’s rendering showing the proposed Green made of artificial turf. The intense heat generated from these surfaces make it impractical to use during the critical summer months.

Besides the smell, artificial turf fields generate intense heat. Surface temperatures measured by NYC Park Advocates over the past three years during the Summer regularly reached greater than 150˚. Many readings reached temperatures greater than 165˚. The dangerous surface temperatures prohibit many passive uses. The problem is especially acute during the late Spring, Summer and early Fall when the public uses of park and open spaces is the greatest. The use of artificial turf at Hunters Point South is especially inappropriate as this site as the plan offers little to no lawn shade. The city is increasingly relying on artificial turf for lawns and passive areas. The increased reliance of artificial surfaces is based on a policy meant to hide the severe effects from a lack of maintenance funds allocated to the DPR including the care of natural grass.

Besides dramatically lowering surface temperatures natural grass helps reduce the heat island effect, produces oxygen, absorbs carbon dioxide. It will trap particulate matter on the leaf surface. Grass also provides a home for insects and other organisms.

According to the EDC, The Hunter's Point South project was subject to an environmental review process pursuant to the Rules of Procedure of City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR). Under CEQR regulations, proposed projects which involve discretionary government actions (e.g., re-zoning, street mapping) require the preparation of an Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) to determine if there exists the potential for significant environmental impacts from the proposed project. However the proposed use of artificial turf in the park was not included, and as a result, its impacts were not addressed. Potential environmental impacts must be addressed by law. It was also not included as part of the ULURP application.

On November 19, 2009, EDC presented plans for the proposed development at Hunter's Point South to Community Board 2 (Queens) land use committee. The proposed project plan was presented by representatives of NYCEDC and the New York City Parks Department. There was an opportunity at the end of the presentation to ask questions and to make comments.

According to The NY Daily News some residents are concerned about river access and the use of artificial turf in the project's design and didn't sit well with some audience members at the public hearing.

"When someone goes to a park, they're expecting nature," said Tom Paino, a local architect. "On a very hot, sunny day, you won't be able to use it."

A Daily News/NYC Park Advocates investigation in July 2008 found that artificial turf surfaces at Flushing Measdows-Corona Park could get as hot as 162 degrees.

"Our first preference is natural grass," Community Board 2 Chairman Joe Conley said at the meeting. "But Parks needs to know who is going to provide the maintenance."

Long Island City resident Peter Johnson asked if the Parks Department had considered the environmental impact of droppings from the seagulls he believed the turf would attract as reported in

“It’s going to be an area of warmth,” he said, warning that artificial turf cannot absorb and break down the birds’ fecal matter like natural grass. “They’re going to be perching there.”

Charles McKinney, design chief for the Parks Department, said they would have to wash the turf regularly. The agency is switching to turf for active recreation fields because grass is too expensive to maintain in heavily trafficked areas.

Tom Paino, an architect and advocate for controlled development, complimented the Parks Department on the design but also urged the agency to use grass for the common area. “The new products still produce VOC’s,” he said, referring to the gasses released by the turf materials.

Paino also warned about the heat from the turf being in direct sunlight. “This green, this common space will be unusable during the summer months,” he said.

According to A Walk in the Park, the DPR as usual tried in vain to justify the environmentally harmful surface. This time it was the DPR's unlicensed Chief of Design, Charles "Change-Designs-at-the-Last-Minute" McKinney who weighed in. The EDC even provides a link to DOH's synthetic turf "Fact Sheet" from its website which is full of spin and omissions.

Thomas Balsley Associates, a landscape architecture firm working on the park is also the same firm that designed the controversial replacement park scheme around Yankee Stadium. A Daily News/NYC Park Advocates investigation this summer revealed surface temperatures on the new artificial turf field built on top of a parking garage reached over 150˚— this after the city spent an additional $ 160,000 in tax payer funds for infill material which was supposed to provide cooler temperatures. This plastic field replaced grass fields which regularly reached temperatures of no greater than 90˚ on the most extreme summer days.

Community Board 2 is expected to vote on the Hunter Point South project on Thursday December 3, 2009.

Read More:

Residents worry about river access, artificial turf at new 11-acre Hunters Point park
New York Daily News - December 1, 2009

City unveils Hunters Pt. plans
Your - November 27, 2009

Hunters Point South’s controversial Astroturf (?) waterfront park

Economic Deveopment Corporation - Hunter's Point South Plan

Artifical Turf

Macombs park turf too hot for them to handle! Critic's thermometer hits 150 degrees
New York Daily News - August 18, 2009 By Bill Egbert

At City’s Synthetic Fields, High Lead Levels Fuel Debate
New York Times - February 9, 2009 - By Cara Buckley

City Shuts Field Over Lead Concern
New York Times - City Room - December 26, 2009 - By Sewell Chan

High Temps On Turf Fields Spark Safety Concerns

NPR (National Public Radio) - August 7, 2008 - by Allison Aubrey

Parks' fake grass can reach a scorching 162 degrees

New York Daily News - July 5, 2009 - By Jeff Wilkins & Elizabeth Hays

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