Weeks after a selectman questioned the town’s use of pesticides, officials on Tuesday approved a $3,000 contract with a Burlington, Mass.-based company to evaluate two New Canaan playing fields—one that gets the chemicals and one that doesn’t.
Strangely, Selectman Kathleen Corbet—who has questioned why some fields used by local kids get pesticide treatments while others don’t, and has drafted a memo making recommendations on pesticides—appeared not to know about plans to hire Tom Irwin Advisors to look at the two fields.
“What are we ‘evaluating’ there?” Corbet asked during the Board of Selectmen’s regular meeting, when an agenda item to approve small contracts came up.
The Board of Selectmen regularly approve contracts less than $10,000 in bulk. A note on this contract, out of the Department of Public Works, said only, “evaluate fields at Saxe and school Conner field.” While state law prohibits playing fields that are part of Saxe school grounds from receiving pesticide treatments, Conner—a town property located along Farm Road next to the middle school—does get a midsummer application.
Public Works Director Tiger Mann responded to Corbet, saying, “We felt it was best to have someone go out there and have someone actually independent go out and evaluate the two fields, so we could then have a baseline and a marker moving forward.”
“If we were to make a change, we would have a baseline from an independent party. So that was the thought, was to look at the two separate ones, since as we discussed, they are in the same area but they are treated differently, as we spoke about. So it gives us a baseline to move forward, then depending upon any decisions that are made, we track two fields and see exactly what happens with them going forward.”
Currently, playing fields at Waveny and Mead Parks, as well as Conner Field, get a midsummer application of pesticides (Irwin Park hasn’t had fertilizer or pesticides applied since June 2019 due to budget cuts).
Corbet in a memo drafted last month said New Canaan should fully disclose its use of pesticides to treat some athletic fields, establish a panel to regularly review the chemicals’ application here and seek public input on their use. The town also should figure out how much it would cost to maintain pesticide-free athletic fields by over-seeding them, according to Corbet.
Parks officials have voiced reasons for keeping the status quo, saying it’s less expensive to use pesticides than to over-seed and maintain athletic fields organically. (Corbet has put the additional cost at a net of about $68,000 annually.) Advocates for the use of pesticides on some athletic fields also say they’re safer for athletes because the ground is less clumpy.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan has said in the past that the town should review its use of pesticides.
It isn’t clear whether or how the company’s findings could derail or influence that review.
Moynihan said Tuesday that he expected “memos” from public works officials as well as the Fields Building Committee and Parks & Recreation Commission. The selectmen will “review those recommendations” and “we will take it up a month from now at the November 17th meeting,” Moynihan said.