Council Adopts Diluted Resolution On Synthetic Turf. Fails To Reach Agreement On Anti-racism Commitment


Artificial turf field hockey pitch at the University of Michigan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Report On The Special Meeting of The Amherst Town Council, December 12, 2022

This meeting was held in a hybrid format and was recorded. It can be viewed here

Councilors in the Town Room: President Lynn Griesemer (District 2), Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andy Steinberg (at large), Cathy Schoen (District 1), Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Jennifer Taub (District 3), Pam Rooney and Anika Lopes (District 4) , Ana Devlin Gauthier and Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5)

Participating on Zoom: Ellisha Walker (at large), Dorothy Pam (District 3), and Michele Miller (District 1).

Staff present in the Town Room: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager) and Athena O’Keeffe (Clerk of the Council)

Council Waters Down Resolution Regarding Artificial Turf
This special Town Council meeting was necessitated because of the prolonged discussion at the meeting on December 5 to reconsider a council decision that denied contributing $900,000 from free cash to a plan to upgrade the high school track using artificial turf for the enclosed playing field. Several items on the December 5 agenda were postponed until this meeting.. A compromise motion at the December 5 meeting allows the funds allocated by the town to be used for either grass or synthetic turf. Earlier, the Regional School Committee (RSC) and Community Preservation Act Committee had made it clear that only synthetic turf could be used for the new track and field.  (CPA funds cannot be used for the turf itself.) The compromise allows the RSC to shift to grass should they wish to pursue an alternative to synthetic turf as the plans develop. The compromise motion passed unanimously.

Also, at the December 5 council meeting, Councilor Michele Miller (District 1) had proposed a nonbinding resolution urging the RSC to study the risks of synthetic turf to the environment and to the health and safety of the athletes using it. However, Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5) objected to the resolution. After repeatedly referring to a PFAS researcher who has not studied the risks of PFAS in artificial turf and a UMass statistician who believes the risk of PFAS in turf is “minimal” but whose work focuses on personalized exercise monitoring, Bahl-Milne stated that there is “no evidence” demonstrating a danger of PFAS exposure from synthetic turf and then used her prerogative under section 2.10(c) of the Town Charter to unilaterally stop debate on the resolution until the next council meeting.

In the meantime, the Amherst Board of Health, after thoroughly reviewing many reports for its December 8 meeting, felt that there are significant probable dangers posed by synthetic turf and recommended that the field at the high school be upgraded with natural grass. 

In the week since the December 5 meeting, Bahl-Milne and Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large) met with Miller to craft a substitute resolution that weakened the original by removing any inference that PFAS in artificial turf might pose a danger that merits further study by the town.

Councilor Cathy Schoen (District 1) labeled the new resolution “weak” and said that it “doesn’t say anything” but Hanneke asserted that the Regional School Committee is an equal to the Town Council because its members are elected by the public “[so] we shouldn’t tell them what to do.”

The original resolution stated:

WHEREAS, the Amherst Town Council acknowledges that artificial turf has recently come under scrutiny, with several Amherst Town Councilors, one Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee member, and many members of the public expressing concern about the health and environmental safety of artificial turf, particularly with respect to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of chemicals often referred to as “forever chemicals….” 

The new text states:

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Amherst Town Council supports the need to further investigate the impacts of PFAS in all consumer products in our community, continuing to learn about the impacts of newer materials of artificial turf in our community, and taking legislative action to address such impacts.”

The new resolution also misstates that “members of the Board of Health expressed concern about the health and environmental safety of artificial turf” when actually, the Board of Health motion states that it “does not support the installation of artificial turf at this time”.

Miller defended the amended resolution, stating it is balanced in recognizing the concerns of athletes and coaches about the poor condition of the athletic fields while also raising some concern about using artificial turf, but doesn’t take sides. Cathy Schoen (District 1) labeled the new resolution “weak” and said, “It “doesn’t say anything,” but Hanneke asserted that the Regional School Committee is an equal to the Town Council because its members are elected by the public “[so] we shouldn’t tell them what to do.”

The amended resolution passed by a 10-2-1 vote with Ellisha Walker (at large) and Dorothy Pam (District 3) voting no, and Schoen abstaining.

First Reading Of New Bylaws For Restaurants And Bars Receives Favorable Reception
Town Planner Nate Malloy summarized changes in the Zoning Bylaw for permitting of restaurants and bars. Over the past 20 years, he said, the town has had enough experience in how to permit eating establishments to streamline the process now. Zoning Article 14, enacted during the pandemic, allowed 20 businesses to open or expand by approval of the Building Commissioner rather than the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals as long as conditions were met, and this process has worked well, with no complaints being raised at this point. The temporary pandemic measures are due to expire at the end of the year, and the Planning Department hopes to get the bylaw changes in place by January 1. 

The proposed changes allow permitting by site plan review for most bars and restaurants in the downtown and village centers. Establishments with minimal exterior changes and no change in use can be approved by the Building Commissioner. Bars that don’t serve food, nightclubs, and restaurants with a capacity of over 200 will still need a special permit for approval. Businesses in the Neighborhood Business (B-N) zone are capped at a capacity of 50 and cannot serve alcohol after 9 p.m. Outdoor dining must be at least 100 feet away from residences, and no outdoor entertainment is allowed in the B-N district. Any change in alcohol service is subject to a public hearing with the Board of License Commissioners..

These changes were approved by the Planning Board and the Community Resources Committee. The full council will vote on whether to adopt them at the December 19 meeting.

First Reading About Floodplain Maps And Flood Insurance Bylaw 
The new floodplain maps developed with GIS technology have been accepted by FEMA, and the Planning Department proposed Article 16, which defines the floodplain and the development that can occur in or near it, to be added to the Zoning Bylaw. The maps and bylaw must be adopted by the town by February, 2023 in order for town residents to be able to purchase flood insurance. The plans received unanimous approval of the CRC and Planning Board. The full council will vote on them December 19.

Racism Again Poses A Stumbling Block For Council
Even though it was close to 9 p.m., Hanneke insisted that she needed feedback on her draft of Town Manager Goals in order to be able to discuss the document at the Wednesday morning Governance, Organization, and Legislation (GOL) meeting. Hanneke added a section on “Town Council Priorities” to the beginning of the document, but councilors could not agree on what should be included, so they opted to omit that page. The draft had been subject of a contentious discussion at the previous GOL meeting where a majority of the members objected to the removal of specific language concerning climate action, affordable housing and racial equity.

Most of the discussion of the document concerned Section IV: Council Policy Implementation, specifically the sections on  “Community Health and Safety” and “Climate Action.” The council has previously spent countless hours listening to the concerns of the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee (CSSJC) regarding the experience of nine teenagers with the Amherst police on July 5 (see also here) and voted 8-5 on November 14 to “Recommend that the Town Manager assist the APD [Amherst Police Department] in developing a proactive, anti-racist culture and that it be documented, and regular updates be provided to the Town Council.” 

Councilor Ellisha Walker (at large) pointed out that the police are different from other town employees in that they are armed, can enter people’s homes, and can make arrests. She again tried to make some of the other councilors understand that “becoming anti-racist” is positive and ongoing, not a criticism.

Despite this vote, Hanneke and Andy Steinberg (at large), who were on the non-prevailing side of that vote, objected to including this language in the Town Manager goals. They stated that several councilors had attended “listening sessions” with the police, and said they didn’t think  the town should single out  the APD in developing an anti-racist culture. 

However, Ellisha Walker (at large) pointed out that police are different from other town employees in that they are armed, can enter people’s homes, and can make arrests. She again tried to help other councilors understand that “becoming anti-racist” is positive and ongoing and not a criticism. The new language about anti-racism and working with the police was then added to the Personnel Management section of the latest draft of the Town Manager goals with the statement that the Town Manager should “foster a proactive anti-racist culture throughout all Town Departments, working first with the Public Safety Departments (CRESS, Fire and EMS, and Police).” [editor’s note: this wording is despite the fact that there have been few if any complaints of racist behavior in the fire/EMS department, and CRESS was established because of well-documented , longstanding problems that Amherst’s BIPOC community has had with the APD].

With regard to climate action, the only specific goal in the latest draft is to explore creating a waste-hauler bylaw. It was noted that this is the only new initiative that has been added to the climate goals since 2019, when the Climate Action and Resiliency Plan (CAARP) was adopted. Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), liaison to the Energy and Climate Action Committee, said that the committee has been working on specific goals that can be completed expeditiously and that the Town Manager goals should include working with the committee to achieve the reduction in carbon emissions specified for 2025, 2030, and 2050. 

Several other suggestions were offered as possible Town Manager goals for the upcoming year. Jennifer Taub (District 3) wanted to encourage the creation of non-student housing. Pam Rooney (District 4) wanted more opportunities for home ownership. Devlin Gauthier wanted the Town Manager to consider hiring an economic development director. She also mentioned protecting the biodiversity of conservation land and adopting the pedestrian and bicycle plan already developed by the Transportation Advisory Committee. Pat DeAngelis (District 2) wanted to add the creation of a Residents Oversight Board for the APD.

Hanneke wanted to delete the goal of creating a Youth Empowerment Center, saying that she sees these Town Manager goals as those that can be accomplished in a year or less. However, others pointed out that several of the goals already in the draft document are long-term initiatives that need to be advanced over several years. 

The Town Manager’s goals will be modified at the GOL meeting on December 14 and further discussed and voted on at the December 19 council meeting.

The State of the Town Address will be given at 5:30 p.m. on December 19, prior to the next Council meeting.

Interviews for associate members of the Zoning Board of Appeals will be held at 10 a.m. on December 20 over Zoom.

The Elementary School Building Committee will hold public forums on January 25 and 26. These will include reports on detailed designs and cost estimates.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:48 p.m.

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15 thoughts on “Council Adopts Diluted Resolution On Synthetic Turf. Fails To Reach Agreement On Anti-racism Commitment

  1. Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne and the unnamed “UMass Statistician” have apparently not done their home work with regard to the science on artificial turf. Perhaps sports and status is more important to them than the health of our children?
    For those who truly want to learn more about this issue I suggest they watch this video featuring Dr. Kayla Bennet and Dr. Sarah Evans of Mt. Sinai Hospital beginning at 40:42 here:

  2. This discussion of the safety of artificial turf has become bizarre. One of the experts that is being quoted by proponents of artificial turf on the ARSC and ATC, David Reckhow, is on a State Task Force who this year completed their report with recommendations. One of the recommendations is to phase out products with PFAS added components by 2030. file:///C:/Users/gerry/AppData/Local/Temp/MicrosoftEdgeDownloads/cbb5299a-5b09-4151-aa70-56fe1068fc0f/PFAS-Interagency-Task-Force-Report.pdf
    Then, there is an extensive report by the Toxic Use Reduction Institute out of UMass Lowell that clearly sees problems with artificial turf and offers a wealth of information on the dangers as well as solutions.
    Then there are more and more municipalities banning artificial turf, including Boston and recently Pelham.
    And now our Board of Health has weighed in against the use of artificial turf, and yet a majority of the School Committee and several members of the Town Council persist. I can’t follow their logic on this topic after a long email exchange with them. Seemingly, none of the above facts have much, if any, influence on their decision. Some go so far as to continue to say that there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that artificial turf poses any significant threats to the safety of the students or to the Town.

  3. Is this behavior bizarre or supremely arrogant? Both?

    Hard to fathom the motives and thinking here– clearly the claim that a Town Council would be an effective decision-maker is belied here, in what seems to be a relatively clear-cut health issue.

  4. It feels arrogant. It feels like “we studied this and made a decision we feel good about. Stop telling us it isn’t a good decision and stop sending us information that doesn’t support our decision.”
    Let’s also not forget that only 1 School Committee member, Jennifer Shiao voted against the artificial turf and an attempt was made to silence her, so they need to be held accountable as well. They appear to be more immune to scientific information than Council members in favor of the plastic fields.

  5. One more comment. Let’s be sure to recognize that 6 Town Council members voted against the artificial turf, thereby defeating the motion to fund artificial fields. They were Councilors: Miller, Pam, Rooney, Schoen, Taub, Walker

    In a follow up meeting, there was a motion to reconsider that vote which I still don’t understand. In Town Meeting, if a motion to reconsider was allowed and then passed, the vote would then be on the original motion. In this instance they allowed motions to amend the original motion, which then passed. It seems they could have simply allowed a new motion to be on the floor since it was different than the defeated original motion, committing the town to repair the field without committing to artificial turf.

  6. Senator Jo Comerford has posted on Facebook about a comprehensive bill that will be coming in January that proposes to effectively ban PFAS in the Commonwealth. You can read it and comment here:

    The PFAS Interagency Task Force Report that Gerry refers to can be downloaded here:

    As Gerry points out, this report recommends phasing out the sale of products that contain PFAS by 2030. It is my understanding that that is what the Senator’s bill will strive to do.

    It was disappointing to see the PFAS resolution weakened, and the Board Of Health’s opinion dismissed/discredited. Some Councilors and School Committee members are cherry picking which individuals and boards they will defer to and respect, quoting only those that support their predetermined outcome.

    Re the School Committee vote in March 2022 on a motion that stated Option 3 (artificial turf) as preferred: the only No vote was the Leverett representative at that time, Gene Stamell. Jennifer Shiao voted yes. Shiao’s recent comments, since learning about PFAS and other concerns with artificial turf (heat, microplastics, increased injuries, stormwater runoff, etc.), were a request to discuss the issue further now that more information has come to light. It does seem, however, that a majority of the Regional School Committee are still in favor of turf, despite now knowing more about all of the downsides.

    Will Senator Comerford’s bill have any impact on their decision making? Unfortunately I doubt it.

  7. You know, UMass has a turf program. Working on Amherst’s many athletic fields in poor condition could be a great town-gown project. With UMass expertise, we can create and implement a doable, affordable plan to fix our fields–a great hands-on project for UMass students and professors.

  8. On December 21, 2022 the Pelham Board of Health unanimously voted to recommend the Amherst Regional School Committee reject the use of artificial turf on the Amherst Schools playing fields.

    Speaking for myself I don’t think it helps to demonize the people in favor artificial turf. They are just parents of athletes trying to do the best for their kids. A F would solve some of the problems with the Amherst athletic fields and the boosters worked hard and donated $ to find a solution. One turf field would not be the end of the world but with PFAS and the inability to recycle all that plastic turf I had to vote against turf in the age of climate change.

  9. 72% (21 out of 29) MLS (Major League Soccer) teams choose grass surface fields for their stadiums. The other 8 teams use a more forgiving grass/turf “hybrid”, (which we can’t afford.)

    16 NFL (National Football League) football teams choose natural grass, while 14 choose high-end “turf”.

    Green Bay Packers veteran linebacker De’Vondre Campbell stated last week (on 12/16/2022): “This is two weeks in a row we’ve had players get injured on turf fields. I think it’s time y’all take some of the money y’all make off us and invest in grass fields for every team around the league. The turf is literally like concrete it has no give when you plant @NFL”

    De’Vondre is saying “Protect your most valuable assets.”

    In 2020, NFLPA [NFL Players’ Association] President JC Trotter, a retired center who played for the Packers and the Cleveland Browns, wrote a letter discussing the grass/turf debate. In short, he believes NFL clubs should proactively change all field surfaces to natural grass.

  10. Not to rain on the anti Astro parade, but can people at least do some basic research before talking in absolutes about the ability to recycle worn out artificial turf?

    As for the professional teams using real grass fields, can you please point me to the professional team sized budgets to keep the game and practice fields in playable condition beyond just a season, that this and the other towns can afford? I mean the school offers field based athletics for the full time that the school is in session, can we commit to the necessary field usage with grass surfaces? I do hope that we will not lose any playing time on these professional grade grade surface that everyone is promising.

    I would love to see the proposed budget to meet the necessary field usage with these professional grade game and practice surfaces.


    Marcus Smith

  11. Marcus,
    IF artificial turf is dangerous to one’s health and safety, I find it poor reasoning to go ahead with it because we can’t afford, primarily for public school sports mind-you, that which is safer.

    Indeed nothing any of us might want from our municipal budgets is likely as easily afforded than if we had the resources of the major industries of many professional sports organizations. I think they call that a false equivalency.

    On a separate but related note, I find it of no value, if not unhelpful, to read comments like: the anti Astro parade; a handful of people can torpedo good projects; the usual Google research crew. Even the childish response and defense of it from a Town Councilor when casting her vote (again) for artificial turf, does little to encourage civil discourse.

    I appreciate the link you included. In your research, did you happen to come across a company in the US that purports to safely recycle artificial turf? Ideally, this would be one in the northeast region, thereby not requiring as large a carbon footprint or higher shipping costs when the time came to send it out.

    BTW, I am quite certain that some who oppose the use of artificial turf have done as much, if not more, research than some who favor it. To infer otherwise is, well, enough said…

  12. @Marcus Smith — Not to put too fine a point on it, but “” has a commercial interest in hyping the recyclability of astroturf.

    But, even if you take them seriously, (1) they cite no data, and (2) they still can’t even manage to come up with anything impressive. This online retailer (located in the UK) discusses that there is a “very large” recycling plant … in Amsterdam. And, this curious note:

    “With more advances in technology, the possibility to recycle artificial grass will continue to grow as more companies invest in this specialist machinery. In the meantime, rather than throwing your old false turf into a landfill, you could re-purpose it for other uses. Possibilities include using your old fake lawn to line animal shelters, as coverings for play areas, or as a form of protection against rain and winter weather. Whilst this technically isn’t recycling, re-using your old artificial grass is still better than disposing of it to landfill.”

    Not exactly persuasive for the pro-astro-turf recycling side.

    Plastics manufacturers have been (over)hyping the ability to recycle those products for years — decades — and it turns out that whatever the putative, possible recycling potential … most plastic is not recycled. See NPR, 2020, “How Big Oil Mislead the Public into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled”, . See also this chart from the EPA, which sources data from pro-plastics groups the American Chemistry Council, the Association of Plastic Recyclers, etc: . “Combustion with energy recovery” — i.e., incineration, which has its own health issues — gets rid of more plastics than recycling. Guess what? Incineration is not a great idea for PFAS plastics, per the EPA, again:


  13. Hi Marcus: Of course we don’t have money for better fields like other towns do. You are correct, we don’t have the assets to properly maintain quality grass surface, and certainly not any of the high-end turf mentioned in the article. I suppose my point was that given the choice of the two very best options available, grass has plenty of support within the NFL and MLS league, with some passionate backlash against turf. But I do recognize that my comments/stats were based more on my own strong passion and opinion than the fiscal realities of getting this particular project done safely and affordably!

    Best Wishes, Kurt

  14. The Dutch investigative journalist program, Zembla, looked into what happens to old turf when it goes to a “recycling” plant in the Netherlands. It’s worth a watch (there are subtitles).

    The one company that seems to successfully recycle artificial turf is Re-Match in Denmark. There has been much fanfare about Re-Match opening the first turf recycling plant in the U.S., in Luzerne County in Pennsylvania. However, it is not yet built and even if/when it is, the capacity will be limited, far below the number of fields that age out each year.

    Re the economics of grass vs turf – even Weston & Sampson acknowledges that turf costs about twice as much as grass over the long-term. Amherst needs to fund maintenance of all its assets, including all of the recreational areas.

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