Turf from tires for DeLaSalle?

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The Strib took a pass at writing the following story — an hours-long wrangle before the Zoning & Planning Committee with 70+ years of implications for the city.

So the following is my report on the appeal by DeLaSalle to overturn the unanimous rejection by the HPC for 3 acres of plastic and tons and tons of finely-ground rubber tires to be placed in the middle of the Mississippi.

(Question my facts? Check out the HPC transcript, available on the City website. Question my style? Well, Good Gonzo to you, my reader.)

So what happened to the natural turf that the City Council voted twice to require? Yes, yes. I know. They were adamant about its use because the Athletic Field was also in the middle of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. CM Schiff specifically took a firm stance regarding that, blue eyes flashing.

What hoppened?! It seems the Park Board, which is providing use of public land for about 1/3 of the project, belated, and I say, disingenuously, has “discovered” that they won’t get enough use for their summer programs.

And why did it take them some three years to figure this out? It didn’t. Opponents of the choice of location were aware all along that the choice would be “plastic.” But DeLaSalle and its cohorts on the Park Board knew their struggle for the hearts and minds of the public was going to be hard enough, so they assured the public that the island would not be desecrated by artificial turf.

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That enabled them to convince the public (and some public officials) that the Athletic Facility would actually INCREASE the amount of green space on the island. What a masterfully crafted plan! Earnest people who believed that DeLaSalle should have their sports facility, but who might have balked at turning that field into a 3-acre tire repository, were brought along like lambs to the slaughter.

With this “bait and switch” plan, the City’s Environmental Assessment Worksheet wouldn’t include reports on the states who have rejected or placed moratoriums on this specific tire-based turf because of questions that are arising about its effect on the environment and health. Great!

And with a little luck, and a cooperative Strib, the public won’t even know about the switch until after the Council votes (this Thursday). After the turf goes in, and the public anger settles down, phase two can kick in — the plastic dome that’ll crown the field, a la Holy Angels.

What’s that, you say? The City would never allow that bulbous blight to mar the St. Anthony Falls Historic District? Well, the City would have no say. A plastic dome is not a permanent structure. All DeLaSalle needs is another willing donor, and the dome makes blight history on Nicollet Island.

Who spoke for natural turf at Z&P? Well, the staff read the HPC report. The Commission and the Staff ruled it flies in the face of every National Park Service Guideline — the Gold Standard (and the ONLY criteria) against which the field surface decision is (ostensibly) to be made.

CM Gordon reiterated this standard to Chair Gary Schiff, but nonetheless, Chair Schiff obliged four Park Board Commissioners who testified on use and their “need” for artificial turf.

But the Chair held their feet to the fire, right? He asked for documentation on their assertions that natural turf wouldn’t be able to withstand the wear, right? Yeah, right. This was testimony by a quartet in black suits all singing the woes of natural turf. And there wasn’t a study or document in sight.

A more stringent standard was reserved for the question of just how visible this plastic display would be. A Planning staffer named Sporlien noted that it’d be visible from too many places to enumerate. But that wasn’t sufficient for the Chair’s rigorous standard. He demanded more documentation and more photos than those already presented.

Who else spoke for natural turf? An irate CM Remington. While still a firm backer of a field for DeLaSalle’s, he was v-e-r-y displeased at this 11th hour switch. It seemed he, like so many, really believed those DeLaSalle proponents who said the field would actually INCREASE the amount of “green space” on Nicollet Island. He was dismayed, as an informed public would no doubt be, that the “green space” they were sold was actually dyed plastic riding on a repository of finely-ground recycled “?tires.

So it goes to a vote next week before a City Council presided over by a woman who was, until recently, a DeLaSalle trustee.

What are the odds that she’ll look at a map of the city and say, “Why this has to be the worst spot in the city to locate 3-acres of artificial turf topping tons and tons of recycled tires”? And what are the odds that flying pigs will make an appearance at the hearing? About the same, I’d venture.

The rest of the public still doesn’t know about this “bait and switch,” thanks to the cooperation of the Star Tribune. But you do, and you could contact your council member if you’re a proponent of natural turf. Or, you could do nothing and plan on a future Nicollet Island visit. That’ll mean you’ll be able to peel off your shoes, wiggle your toes in green plastic turf, and squish some of those tire shreds between your toes.

Gonzo journalist, signing off.

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