City council is moving forward with a controversial synthetic turf field for Robron Park, with construction to begin in August.
At its Monday night meeting, council approved spending $1.09 million to have Upland Contracting prepare the area for construction, $475,000 to AstroTurf West for the field, and $140,170 for sports lighting at Robron Park.
The $2.27 million project was budgeted for by council in its 2015 financial plan, but with mixed reactions from the public. While the soccer community has been lobbying hard for the all-weather, synthetic turf field for years, others have voiced concerns about potential health effects from the crumb rubber turf which is made from recycled tires.
An NBC news report in 2014 named several soccer players who had contracted cancer after using the synthetic turf fields.
But Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of sports, recreation and culture, said at Monday’s council meeting that city staff have done extensive research and reviewed more than 50 independent studies from across Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and all indicate that the new artificial turfs using crumb rubber have no known health or environmental risks.
Today’s synthetic turf is also now made without lead.
“We have dedicated a significant number of resources to researching this,” Milnthorp said. “We have found modern research on the most modern infill available – which is what we’re getting – there are no health concerns related to that.”
Milnthorp said there is a frequently asked questions page on the Robron All-Weather Field project on the city’s website with links to seven health studies. (Download the FAQ .PDF here)
Mayor Andy Adams also noted that North Cowichan recently installed an all-weather field and Island Health confirmed there are no adverse health effects associated with the new generation of synthetic turf fields.
Adams said Campbell River’s turf field project has been six years in the making.
“Subsequent councils have put aside in excess of $750,000 out of the Parks Parcel Tax funds in preparation for the different phases of this project,” Adams said. “Council sees this as another critically important investment in our youth, families, and recreation in our community. Currently many games are cancelled due to unplayable weather and players and coaches are having to go elsewhere down-Island to participate in rep teams and larger tournaments.”
Adams said the Robron field will hopefully reverse that trend and bring out of town teams to Campbell River.
“This will be one of the premier facilities on Vancouver Island,” Adams said. “The vistas, the setting are absolutely spectacular.”
But Adams also acknowledged the unrest swirling around the project.
“I want to point out, because there is controversy with this, the majority of council campaigned in the last election to move forward with this project,” Adams said. “This council is getting things done and moving ahead with a promise of what they would do.”
Adams also touched on another point of controversy – a referendum in 2008 that was defeated and which bundled the Robron Park project with a new downtown arena and which, had it passed, required the city to borrow $20 million.
But Adams said the all-weather project is different and won’t require the city to take on any debt.
“This initiative being presented to us tonight, it does not require borrowing any money,” Adams said. “As I mentioned, we set aside $750,000 and the federal government changed the eligibility for the federal Gas Tax to enable use for recreational projects and recreational facilities. So this project is 100 per cent funded with Parks Parcel Tax and the Community Gas Tax funds, so there are no funds borrowed to complete this project.”
The artificial, all-weather field, sport lighting and improvements to the pathway system around Robron Park are expected to be complete by November 10 of this year.