Pesticides on New Canaan Playing Fields: Town Approves $3,000 Contract for Third-Party Evaluation

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.

Selectman Corbet Calls for Full Disclosure, Annual Review of Pesticide Use on New Canaan Playing Fields

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, according to Selectman Kathleen Corbet. The town also should figure out how much it would cost to “[maintain] pesticide-free athletic fields by over-seeding them,” Corbet said in a draft memo to the Board of Selectmen, obtained by through a public records request. “Once further study and review of pesticide usage is engaged, consider public hearings, surveys, or other means by which community input is garnered,” the memo said. “In the last 12 years, new health studies, legislation, alternative products and applications have been developed and it is appropriate for the [t]own bodies and our community to be well-informed about the risks, benefits and limitations of pesticides and organic alternatives.”

The memo follows Corbet’s own questioning of why the town still uses pesticides on some playing fields serving youth while the chemicals are banned by state law on some others—namely, elementary and middle school property—and by local policy at New Canaan High School. 

At Corbet’s prompting, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan indicated this month that it would review its use of pesticides. Currently, playing fields at Waveny and Mead Parks, as well as Conner Field off of Farm Road, get a midsummer application of pesticides (Irwin Park hasn’t had fertilizer or pesticides applied since June 2019 due to budget cuts). 

Parks officials have said it’s less expensive to use pesticides than to over-seed and maintain fields organically.

Town To Re-Examine Use of Pesticides on Playing Fields 

At Selectman Kathleen Corbet’s prompting, the town plans to re-examine a longstanding policy whereby pesticides are used on some of New Canaan’s athletic fields. First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said last week that it’s “entirely appropriate we revisit this topic.”

“It’s one I know very little about and I think the fact that we now have turf fields has changed things,” Moynihan said during the Board of Selectmen’s Sept. 8 meeting, held via videoconference. 

“And I also don’t know quite what role the Fields Committee should play in this versus Parks & Recreation versus the Town Council, so we’ll further analyze this. I know [Public Works Director] Tiger [Mann] and [Parks Superintendent] John Howe have their own views on this topic. So we will bring this back when we investigate some of those other points of contact as to who has responsibility for this policy.”

First Selectman Pooh-Poohs Wastewater Test for COVID-19 Virus

Days after the mayor of neighboring Stamford issued a warning about the risk of increased COVID-19 virus cases based on a test of the city’s wastewater system, New Canaan’s highest elected official voiced skepticism about the value of such a test here. Addressing the prospect of the test in New Canaan, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said Tuesday, “I am a little skeptical myself about the value of doing that testing.”

“I think the testing of individuals is much more important,” he said during a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen, held via videoconference. “The fact that we have tested 4,000 residents in the past 60, 80, 90 days and the fact that also we do not have people claiming that they’re ill. To me that is kind of a very rough test and wouldn’t be that helpful.”

Moynihan added that although he’s read reports that “fecal testing may be more effective with babies,” still “the wastewater is very, very rough kind of test and doesn’t tell you that much.”

The topic was raised by Selectman Kathleen Corbet during a discussion of general matters. She referred to an emergency bulletin from Stamford Mayor David Martin that “a COVID-19 early warning wastewater system detected a potential increase in cases of COVID-19 in Stamford.”

Corbet asked whether such a test would be valuable for New Canaan.