By KATIE MOEN
For The Westfield Leader
WESTFIELD — The Westfield mayor and council tackled a heavy agenda on Tuesday during the governing body’s last regular meeting of the summer season. In addition to finalizing a new contract for the fire department, shoring up its road paving schedule and implementing some new floodwater-mitigation strategies, the council heard from residents who shared some lingering concerns about the proposed Edison Fields turf installation project.
The existing plan, prepared by the Spiezle Architectural Group and presented to the public in June of last year, calls for the installation of two full-sized turf multipurpose recreation fields (both of which are expected to be fitted with LED lighting); one natural-grass baseball field; and a prefabricated restroom facility on the grounds of Edison Intermediate School. The project as proposed is expected to cost just upwards of $9 million.
Under the terms of the current proposal, the town intends to lease the field from the board of education for the sum of $1 per year for 30 years. As part of the terms of the shared-services agreement, the town would, according to its website, “bear responsibility for the financing, design, construction, and maintenance of the facility.”
Earlier this year, a group of concerned residents calling themselves Citizens for Responsible Athletic Fields Development launched a local grassroots movement to encourage the council to consider a natural alternative.
Members of the group have made repeat appearances in front of the council, the board of education and the Westfield Recreation Commission over the course of the past year to share their findings and encourage the project’s decision makers to consider a more natural alternative for the space.
“Artificial turf fields contain carcinogens, toxins and pollutants known to cause cancer, thyroid disease, asthma, lung ailments, liver damage and other diseases. This is not safe for our children and students,” Westfield resident Tim Eaton said Tuesday. “Even with substitute infill other than rubber, there are dangerous chemicals in the turf. Natural-grass fields are cooler in hot weather…and help reduce global warming.”
In May, the council voted to approve a $14,000 review of the project by CME Associates, an engineering firm hired to conduct a third-party assessment of the property, its proposed additions and several potential alternative development ideas for the site.
Earlier this summer, Mayor Shelley Brindle asked residents to keep an open mind while heading into the next round of discussions.
“We have been learning a lot about artificial turf,” Mayor Brindle said, speaking during a regular meeting of the council held on June 28. “There are new products out there that are recyclable and don’t use rubber infill. We’re all waiting for that report to come back so that we can make a decision.”
While the council has yet to receive the results of the CME assessment, Mayor Brindle said Tuesday that the firm has been making progress and plans to present its findings to the public as soon as possible.
“I think [CME] is still waiting to interview one group [of neighboring residents], but it has been challenging for them to get to everyone due to vacation schedules,” Mayor Brindle said. “We’re anxious to hear from [CME] so we can weigh the pros and cons of each option. I don’t think there’s a pure solution either way; we’re just going to have to figure out the right solution for our community.”
In other town news, the council voted to approve a series of infrastructure resolutions on Tuesday which, Town Administrator Jim Gildea said, should work in tandem to help the community reach its goals of road paving and storm-water management.
Of particular note was the council’s unanimous decision to award a $111,000 contract to T.R. Weniger, Inc., of Piscataway, for a long-awaited stream cleanout scheduled to take place over the course of the coming weeks in both Mindowaskin Park and near Fairview Cemetery.
“It has taken a long time to get all of the DEP permits that we need to get these waterways cleaned out, but now that we have all of the approvals, we’re excited to get these projects taken care of,” Mr. Gildea said. “Right now, they’re thinking it should only take a couple of weeks, but it depends on how much sediment they find once they get in there.”
Paving efforts also are expected to continue throughout the community for several more weeks, Mr. Gildea said Tuesday, but, he added, the town is now looking to take a more proactive approach to managing its infrastructure going forward.
The council also voted to award a public contract in an amount not to exceed $47,682 to IMS Infrastructure Management Services, an Arizona-based engineering firm, for a grid assessment of the community’s roadways.
The results of the paving assessment, known as a paving condition index, will give the town the opportunity to prioritize repairs going forward, Mr. Gildea said.
“Now, we’ll be able to take roads in a single neighborhood and lump them together based on condition so that we’re not going over newly-paved roads with heavy equipment every year to address things individually. It will be more like a few big projects rather than a bunch of smaller ones,” Mr. Gildea said. “We think it will be a more efficient way to do things, and it will also save the taxpayers some money, so that’s all good stuff.”
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