Amherst councilors resolve to move track and field project along

  • The track and field at Amherst Regional High School on Tuesday morning in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 12/13/2022 9:18:47 PM

AMHERST — While the Town Council is acknowledging community concerns that per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, might be in artificial turf that get installed in the track and field renovation project at Amherst Regional High School, a resolution adopted by councilors on Monday should allow the project to proceed.

Councilors voted 10-2, with one abstention, in support of “a resolution concerning the safety of the Amherst Pelham Regional High School athletic complex,” with those objecting appearing to worry that the resolution doesn’t go far enough in trying to prohibit artificial turf.

District 1 Councilor Michele Miller brought forward the resolution when councilors authorized $900,000 in free cash toward the $4.7 million project at their Dec. 5 meeting. It allows project planners the option to pursue either a synthetic surface or grass for the interior field, with the artificial turf choice dependent on successful fundraising by the Hurricane Boosters organization.

The amended resolution was co-sponsored by District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne and At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke.

“It is my hope the resolution will provide a sense of unity for the community about the things we can agree on, and communicate the council’s commitment to continued awareness regarding PFAS and artificial turf in Amherst,” Miller said after the vote.

Miller said what is included in the text shows that it is important to stick to the facts and timelines that have been established, express that existing fields are in poor condition, and commit to addressing concerns about PFAS, also known as forever chemicals.

“What we don’t want to do is get into a debate about the science or choosing a side in the resolution,” Miller said.

Bahl-Milne said she appreciates that the resolution demonstrates that councilors care for students and their mental and physical well-being, and understand PFAS worries, as well.

“I feel like this resolution will support the Boosters in fundraising by not adding to controversy but acknowledging what we know and moving forward in full support of the athletes with continued caution and care,” Bahl-Milne said.

District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier, who supported the resolution, said it would be wrong to approve spending on the project and then put pressure on school officials to abandon plans for an artificial turf field.

“That felt inappropriate to me on multiple levels,” Devlin Gauthier said.

Other councilors in support included Council President Lynn Griesemer, At Large Councilor Andy Steinberg, District 4 Councilors Pamela Rooney and Anika Lopes, District 3 Councilor Jennifer Taub and District 3 Councilor Pat De Angelis.

The councilors who objected said the resolution doesn’t include references to legislation that might prohibit use of artificial turf or say that the schools should follow the advice of the Board of Health, which voted 4-0 last week to advise town and school officials against using artificial turf.

“I am very unhappy with this,” said District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam.

Pam said after giving the district nearly $1 million in free cash a week earlier, councilors could have been forceful in expressing their concerns.

“It seems to have no teeth at all, and here’s your $900,000,” Pam said, adding that she’s tired of the “games being played” with the information being presented on the athletic fields.

Pam was joined in opposition by At Large Councilor Ellisha Walker.

“It’s a pretty weak resolution at this point,” said District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen, who abstained from the vote. “It could pass, and it doesn’t say anything.”

But Miller said the resolution should establish a dialogue with the community about PFAS.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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