Mt. Lebanon awards turf contract despite opposition

Published Jul 10, 2014 at 11:36 am (Updated Jul 10, 2014 at 11:36 am)

After months of bitter debate, Mt. Lebanon will move forward with its controversial artificial turf project. Opponents have pointed to everything from health concerns to governance issues in hopes of derailing the turf installation. Some critics have gone so far as to place anti-turf yard signs outside their homes (turf supporters have yard signs of their own).

Nonetheless, commissioners voted 4 to 1 to award an $888,000 contract for the installation of artificial turf at Middle and Wildcat fields to Vasco Sports at their July 8 meeting. The commission also assigned an additional $162,600 of fund balance to the project and approved a maintenance agreement with Mt. Lebanon School District.

That brings the total funds allocated for turf installation to $1,050,000. That figure includes professional fees and contingencies, as well as alternate items such as a zinc filtration system and fountain.

Commissioner Kelly Fraasch was the lone dissenter. Prior to the votes, she expressed regret that she had not worked harder to develop an alternative to the turf project – a proposed expansion and revitalization of Robb Hollow Park. She also reiterated concerns about the potential health affects of chemicals in artificial turf, going so far as to read warnings directly off the materials list Vasco Sports provided.

“This will weigh on my shoulders for a long time,” Fraasch said, “whether I could have done more to impact this vote. Tonight is about picking low hanging fruit for our community.”

Her fellow commissioners displayed no such angst. Rather, they expressed full confidence in the project and its safety.

Dave Brumfield reiterated his belief that turf components contain minimal levels of harmful chemicals. “There is a higher level of lead in natural soil than there will be in this field,” he said. “To me, this is not something that warrants abandoning a project that will address needs we’ve had for a long time.”

John Bendel emphasized that field improvements were mentioned in Mt. Lebanon’s most recent comprehensive plan and have been included on the municipality’s capital projects list for several years now. He pointed to the turf project as a public private partnership with substantial buy-in from residents – local sports groups have raised a little over $250,000 as a required, non-municipal contribution to the project.

Commission president Kristen Linfante went even further, offering project critics something of a civics lesson. “The democratic process is not putting everything that comes across our desks to a referendum,” she said. “We base our decisions off a lot of hard work. Not everyone here has all the information that we do.”

She added that anyone confused about the project or its scope had ample opportunity to contact commissioners with questions.

“This is local government where the five of us have to make very difficult decisions. We were charged with solving a problem that has existed a very long time,” Linfante concluded.

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