For the second time in two weeks, the Edmonds City Council postponed a decision on whether to approve an interlocal agreement with the Edmonds School District under which the city would schedule, operate and maintain the artificial turf fields now being installed at the former Woodway High School.
The council was scheduled to vote at its July 22 meeting on whether to pursue the interlocal agreement for the first phase of multi-use sports complex, but the vote was postponed after councilmembers agreed that they wanted more time to study the matter. On Tuesday night, the council agreed by a 6-1 vote (Councilmember Joan Bloom voting no) to keep the item on the agenda for further discussion but not take action on it.
Instead, the council directed City Attorney Jeff Taraday to work with school district attorneys on negotiating changes to the agreement that would spell out, among other things, that the city has a say in the type of turf infill that is being used on the property, which is owned by the school district but located within Edmonds city limits.
Proposed edits to the interlocal agreement include a sentence that “For subsequent phases, all decisions about field construction and material composition shall be joint decisions of the School District and the City.” Noted Councilmember Tom Mesaros: “I believe that the goal is be able to have some control over the infill to choose there.”
Councilmember Mike Nelson then asked City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite about the service life of the newly installed field. When Hite replied that it was 10 years, Nelson continued, “The language having to do with subsequent phases or replacement costs, we are talking about 10 years from now?”
“That’s correct,” Hite answered.
“I would like to see that before 10 years,” Nelson said. “This is a contract and we’re a partner, and I want to be a partner in this. Everything can be negotiated. Everything. I’m interested in negotiating the infill. I’m interested in negotiating the timeline for that infill, and I think there’s a lot more ground that we’re closer on than we realize.”
Crumb rubber turf is used widely in sport fields both statewide and nationally, and experts say that currently available research indicates the material is safe to play on. But parents and students attending Edmonds Heights K-12 School, which is located next to the planned project, along with neighbors living near the fields, have been raising health and environmental questions after recent anecdotal reports of cancer clusters among soccer goalies who have played on the crumb rubber surface, which contains carcinogenic material.
For several months, project opponents have been urging the school district to delay action on the project jointly sponsored by the district, the City of Edmonds and the Verdant Health Commission. There have also been issues raised about the environmental impacts of the sports complex. The Pilchuck Audubon Society has said the fields are a nesting area for resident and migratory birds and also noted that the school district — as the lead agency for the project — did not develop a plan for mitigating the runoff of potential contaminants from the crumb rubber into local creeks and eventually, into Puget Sound.
In addition, a neighbor living the project has appealed the Edmonds City Council’s land use decision regarding the property.
Prior to the Tuesday night’s discussion, Hite reminded the council that the city has been working with the district and the Verdant Health Commission for years to address the city’s need for additional play fields to meet the recreational needs of local sports teams. “These additional fields at the Woodway Campus and the only full-size synthetic turf field would provide a definite value for the citizens and athletic teams in Edmonds year-round,” Hite said.
The approximate cost of maintaining the field is $5,000 to $10,000 a year, Hite said, but the revenues received from field rentals would adequately support year-round operation and maintenance. Hite noted that the project spotlights “the city’s role as a partner” — not only with the school district, but with the State of Washington and the Verdant Health Commission, all of which provided funding for the project. The City of Edmonds will pony up $500,000 of the $4.2 million needed for the first phase of the project, which the council adopted as part of the 2015 budget.
Not signing the interlocal agreement would not only impact the city’s ability to schedule the fields, but also to control playing time and field closing times, Hite said. The city has already received “strong interest” from a variety of local youth teams — from football to soccer to baseball to lacrosse — wanting to use the fields, she said, including “71 requests that have been sent to us randomly over the past month.”
Hite also reminded the council that the decision to use tire crumb rubber infill “has been that of the Edmonds School District,” and that the district “has assured the city that they have done their due diligence” regarding the safety of the product.
“This has been a difficult discussion and process because of the recent anecdotal reports about crumb rubber,” Hite said. “I want to recognize that this has not been easy for the council, it’s not easy for the mayor, it’s not easy for the school board, it’s not easy for your parks director, and it’s not easy for your citizens. That said, the school district has made it clear that they are going ahead with this project with us — or without us. The fields will be there whether we use, maintain and schedule them or not.”
“I still hold out hope that the infill is negotiable,” said Councilmember Joan Bloom, who noted that citizens were able to get 571 signatures on a petition in less than two weeks requesting a ban on crumb rubber turf fields in Edmonds
The issue once again drew a large number of speakers — nearly 20 — to offer public testimony during the public comment period.
Several youth coaches not only expressed their support for the project, they praised the school board for its work and said they were confident that the district wouldn’t use the tire crumb rubber unless they were certain it was safe for students to play on. “I started playing on crumb rubber at age 10 and I still play on it,” said David Harvey. “My kids play on it…I do not see myself at risk and would not put my kids at risk.”
Edmonds resident Rebecca Wolfe urged the council to put the children first. “If there’s any doubt that (crumb rubber) is not safe or that it could cause the death of a child, we need to practice precaution.”
At the end of the long discussion period about the interlocal agreement, Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas requested that councilmembers send requested edits and changes to City Attorney Taraday for incorporation into the interlocal agreement draft. which will then be shared with school district attorneys.