To turf or not to turf

Published Jul 23, 2014 at 5:14 am (Updated Jul 16, 2014 at 4:24 pm)

We Leboites should thank our lucky stars that the biggest concerns currently confronting our sleepy little suburb are to coldly cull or just politely neuter our dancing and prancing (into traffic) deer population and to artificially turf a couple of perpetually soggy sports fields or stay grassy “green” but rather lean on our kids’ playing time.

To turf or endlessly mow was the larger issue at a recent commission meeting – cost-and contention-wise. The pro-turf people (grateful jocks mostly) were very nice, while the anti-turf critics got rather testy. But, at the end of a very long day, turfing was supported by all the youth sports organizations with thousands of member families who put their money ($250,000) where their mouths were, and the project was passed on a 4-1 vote by the Mt. Lebanon Commission. Work to install 110,000 square feet of synthetic grass on Cedar Boulevard will begin in August, and be done by late fall. Will it be 100 percent safe since it is made of plastic compounds and has an infill of rubber pellets mimicking soil? Of course not. Nothing is, including grass which requires pesticides and much more maintenance since it is known to inspire mud.

But the vote wasn’t embraced as a great hop, skip and jump forward. A nest of begrudging Republicans led the charge, protesting the turfing as too expensive and, get this – not green enough for their sensibilities. This out of the mouths of folks who would probably – in a Range Resources minute – sell the fracking rights to Bird Park. Heck, Deer Lakes, you got nothin’ on us!

Confounding my Democratic sensibilities mightily was the fact that our usual GOP obstuctionalists (are there any other kind?) were fortified by an unlikely ally – our neighborly and well-meaning environmentalists who, while sipping their artificially flavored H2O from plastic water bottles, got all worked up over our Johnnys and Suzies overdosing on plastic grass, what with rubber pellets clogging their nostrils and MRSA bacteria attacking their skinned knees. It was a fascinating marriage of convenience of the conservative “don’t spend a cent” right and liberal “why don’t we just have a referendum” left. And there I stood – in the middle of this debate – a space I am not known to inhabit. Before retiring, I have worked both as a labor environmentalist organizer in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley (the notorious Big Chem industrial area between Baton Rouge and New Orleans) and I have also been a salesman of Field Turf synthetic grass all over the East Coast.

When I returned to Pittsburgh and started coaching my kids from our new Mt. Lebanon digs, I managed a few indoor soccer complexes and became a synthetic grass salesman. I fashioned myself on a Johnny Appleseed crusade covering 22 states with the good news of a safer sports alternative to Astroturf’s nylon rugs. I sincerely believed that I was on the good side of a highly regulated industry and syn turf fields have proliferated to the point that today they are the rule rather than the exception. My biggest sale, by the way, was to Washington & Jefferson College, a 235,000 square foot multi-sport complex off of Interstate 70 next to the Washington Wild Things Stadium. At the time, it was the largest continuous synthetic field in the world. That field is now over 10 years old and is still in pristine shape and I talked with their Athletic Department folks who would highly recommend it to our Lebo community. At the Commission meeting, I suggested to all to venture on down to that field if they wanted to check out their Cedar Boulevard field’s future. I even offered to drive, but got no takers.

Nonetheless, I gotta say that democracy in Leboland is alive and well and downright interesting – much like the challenging advanced courses taught in our blue ribbon school district where there is a 100 percent PTA participation and 99 percent college admission rate.

And, luckily for me there are no alligators ... yet.

Larry Evans

Mt. Lebanon

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