River Forest Sustainability Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Brennan last week urged the River Forest Park District Board of Commissioners against putting in artificial turf in Keystone and Centennial parks, citing health and environmental risks. 

Brennan, who made her case during the park board’s Aug. 13 meeting, argued that natural grass was preferable for a number of reasons. She cited the presence in artificial turf products of hazardous materials such as zinc and lead, which can leech into groundwater. 

The artificial turf fields also tend absorb and retain heat, which means that the turf and the air above it tend to be hotter than they would with real grass. Brennan cited a Brigham Young University study that reported average artificial turf field temperatures of of 117 degrees, as compared to 78 degrees for natural grass, and 110 degrees for asphalt.

A University of Missouri study, said Brennan, reported an artificial turf field temperature of 178 degrees — 138 degrees head-level — on a 98-degree day.

Meanwhile, Brennan said, on sunny days, temperatures above natural grass field is usually 10 degrees cooler.

The artificial turf could also cause allergies, increase the risk of infections for players that use them and make flooding issues worse. 

“The village [of River Forest] would need install 32 more permeable paver lots to compensate for rain runoff [created] by one artificial turf field,” Brennan said.

Natural grass, Brennan said, would improve air quality, capture carbon dioxide and generate oxygen, naturally cool the air, naturally filter out pollutants in storm water and reduce flooding and erosion. 

Brennan also argued that the grass is simply more comfortable for soccer, softball and baseball players who use them. She cited reports from the NFL Players Association and U.S. Soccer that natural turf was safer and preferred by players to artificial turf.

Brennan noted that the Sustainability Committee wasn’t suggesting keeping the grass turf exactly as-is. Rather, she suggested strengthening the grass through soil aeration, nutrient management and use of grass breeds that are disease and cold-resistant.

“These techniques are successfully used worldwide, in climates harsher than Chicago, at a fraction of the cost of artificial turf,” Brennan said.

The park district isn’t expected to consider the issue until March 2019 at the earliest. Its 2018-19 capital budget includes $1.5 for artificial turf, but it is a line item that is presently “unfunded.”

Park board votes to reduce terms

Also on Aug. 13, members of the park board voted unanimously to reduce their terms from six years to four. 

The new term lengths won’t affect the current trustees, but they will apply to the commissioners elected starting the next election. The current commissioners agreed that six-year terms may be too much of a commitment, and expressed hope that four-year terms would attract more candidates.

Out of the current board, commissioners Cheryl Cargie and Lynn Libera were last elected in 2017, so their terms don’t expire until 2023. Board President Ross Roloff’s term expires in 2021. The seats held by Molly Hague and Peter Kuzmich are up for election in 2019. 

Park District Executive Director Mike Sletten explained that, after 2019, the board will hold a lottery to determine which of the newly elected commissioners will serve for four years and which one will serve for two. 

Since only Roloff’s term would expire in 2021, having both of the newly elected commissioners serve four years would mean only one new commissioner would be elected that year. The idea was to ensure that at least two commissioners are elected in any given election. 

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Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...