Soccer field cleanup day may decide future play
Commissioner Brad Close has proposed a community cleanup day as a way to break an impasse over public use of the county’s new soccer field.
During a heated May 6 discussion about possible alternative, Close suggested Morgan County Parks & Recreation hold a clean-up day at the
field, which is across from the county ballfield complex on U.S. 522, south of Berkeley Springs.
The soccer field has been closed to public use twice in two years over concerns about metal and glass debris found in the topsoil.
In April, the commissioners denied a request from the Morgan County Soccer League to use the area as a practice field. They cited continuing concerns about children’s safety and county liability.
Close introduced his idea for a work day after insisting that the Parks & Rec board had not gotten enough credit for their volunteer work on the soccer field and other projects.
“There wasn’t any credit extended to them and for that I’m sorry,” Close said.
He also said public comments degrading park volunteers and alleging wrongdoing in creating the soccer field were “unfortunate.”
“My advice to them is pick up a shovel, pick up a rake or write a check,” Close said.
“Not a lost cause”
“Let’s have a work day, see what’s underneath there and if it’ll come up,” Close said.
“It’s not a lost cause. We can do it efficiently. We can do it safely and get kids out there playing,” said Close.
He suggested volunteers dig holes two to three feet deep in a variety of locations around the field and see what they find.
Parks & Rec board member Gordon MacLeod supported the idea, and came up with the idea of giving volunteers some sort of flags so they could mark the location and type of debris they might find during a systematic sweep of the field.
MacLeod strongly rebuffed characterizations of the field as a former salvage yard. He said the land, which the county purchased in 2006, housed an auto body shop and held a car crusher for a short time, as part of a state program to dispose of junk cars.
MacLeod gave commissioners a copy of a report by local resident and attorney Larry Schultz, which calls the lot a salvage yard and questions the value, price and purchase of the property by former county officials.
“I’m not going to get into what Larry has said about this,” Commission President Stacy Dugan said repeatedly during the soccer field discussion.
Emotions run high
MacLeod and Dugan clashed at several points over the topic. Dugan told MacLeod at one point that he could leave the meeting room if he was going to continue to raise his voice.
Parks & Rec supporter Vic Dill said he’s walked the soccer field and found nothing dangerous there.
Dill accused Dugan of lying about finding debris on the soccer field. “I think a lot of these things you’ve fabricated,” he said.
“That’s just not true,” Dugan shot back.
Dill said he wanted to walk the field with Dugan. “I’m free to go with you anytime,” he said.
County resident Portia Henry liked the idea of inspecting the field as a group and flagging any potentially harmful items found there.
Dill and MacLeod both cited the expense that had gone into the construction, seeding and re-seeding of the field.
“A lot of money has been wasted and hours from volunteers. It’s a slap in the face. It’s not fair to just move on,” said MacLeod.
“Let’s quit arguing about it. Let’s work together on it and see what’s out there,” said Commissioner Close.
He said the other fields being used for youth soccer — those between Warm Springs Intermediate and Middle Schools — are unsafe and the county needs a better option for children playing the sport.
“Those other fields are 10 times worse — car parts or no car parts,” said Close.
Several options to fix it
After finding metal and glass items in the field last spring, county officials sought a study of the soil, which included a report on how to clean up the field.
At that time, the commissioners voted 2-1 in favor of a Parks & Rec plan to build up the sod on the field in hopes of capping off any remaining debris.
Dugan has been pushing for the county to follow its engineer’s suggestion to remove the current topsoil, lay down a geotextile barrier and add clean topsoil for a new field.
“I’m not going to do anything or vote to do anything until that three to four inches of topsoil is removed,” Commissioner Dugan said last week.
“You all had a remediation and took charge of it for over a year and we’re still dealing with the same problem,” Dugan said to the Parks & Rec representatives at the meeting.
Though she was absent from the meeting, Commissioner Brenda Hutchinson weighed in via emailed comments.
“If there is funding available to successfully remediate the field and all three commissioners are in agreement that the field would be opened after the remediation, I would certainly be in favor of going forward with an approved course of action,” Hutchinson said.
She indicated that if the commissioners couldn’t agree, she wanted to consider other uses of the property, including a new county dog kennel.
If the county moved in that direction, Hutchinson said she would insist that Parks & Rec be reimbursed for any money spent on constructing the field and for donations that were applied to soccer field costs.
Work day will be set
Close gave Parks & Rec the go-ahead to set a work day and invite members of the public to come scan the soccer field and help with identifying and marking any debris in the field.
The next meeting of the Parks & Rec board is on Wednesday, May 18 at 7 p.m.