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Rockville Centre residents protest turf field at Tighe Park

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About 40 residents gathered outside Stephen E. Tighe Memorial Park Monday evening to protest the village’s installation of an artificial-turf field there.

The protesters posted colorful signs aiming to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of synthetic turf. Resident Marianna Bracco, who organized the gathering, has opposed the installation of turf fields in Rockville Centre since 2012, when the village joined a partnership with Molloy College to install one in the village.

At the time, Bracco wrote a guest column for the Herald titled, “The true cost of synthetic turf in Rockville Centre,” highlighting what she described as the dangers of the material — its flammability and the health concerns of nitrogen-laced runoff — as well as the necessity of extra fencing and maintenance. Molloy eventually backed out of the deal.

Then, in February 2019, the village received a $1 million grant from the state to install the artificial turf at Tighe Park, which would be used as a soccer field. Early this month, residents say, workers began removing trees in the field to prepare for the turf installation.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Bracco said. “They’re taking away green space, and there are so many health concerns. I cannot fathom why they would want to introduce another turf field in the area.”

Bracco had started a Change.org petition in 2012, which she revived last week, and now has nearly 250 online signatures of those calling to stop the turf installation.

At the protest, residents discussed their dismay with the changes, which they said were taking place in their own backyard without their input. “One day my kids are there to play, and the next day they’re digging it up,” said Tara Gillen, a resident who regularly visits the park. “We didn’t have a chance to say anything, and I’m really unhappy about that.”

Gillen said she takes a morning run through the park, and enjoys the green space and wildlife there. She said she wished there were more green spaces in the village and fewer sports parks. Her 9-year-old daughter is a soccer player, and Gillen said she was also concerned about how a synthetic field could harm her if she fell and skinned a knee on it, for example.

“I don’t think it’s good for kids,” she said. “They come home from [the Rockville Centre Athletic Complex] covered in those black beads. There’s not a lot of research, but that stuff is cancerous.”

Not many studies have been done on the black beads, or rubber crumbs, which are found in synthetic turf, and there is some debate about their cancer risks.

Mayor Francis X. Murray could not be reached for comment by press time on Tuesday. He noted last year, however, that the installation of artificial turf would mean a more easily maintained village soccer field at Tighe Park.

“We’ve fixed the irrigation, we have fertilized it, we’ve split-seeded it and we even sodded it,” Murray told residents at a meeting in February 2019, announcing the grant to fund the turf. “Nothing seems to work there to keep it in fantastic shape.”