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Turtles and turf: Eugene activists urge caution in city's designs for sports complex

The Verde concept is one of three draft designs for the sports complex.
City of Eugene
The Verde concept is one of three draft designs for the sports complex.

Activists in Eugene are urging the city not to lay artificial turf at a city park, as they say it would pollute nearby ponds.

Golden Gardens Park is home to the Western Pond Turtle, a potentially threatened species. But city officials say it’s also the only park in Eugene with space for a new sports complex.

At a meeting Wednesday, City Council discussed options for creating a bond measure to fund the project. These could raise between $15 million and $35 million for baseball and multi-use fields there.

“The complex would meet the immediate needs of the community while also creating revenue,” Eugene Recreation Services Director Craig Smith told councilors. “Local teams would not have to travel all over the state or the West Coast to go to tournaments.”

However, the environmental group Beyond Toxics said the project needs to use natural grasses as turf. Representatives say they’re worried that PFAS, a class of chemicals found in artificial turf, could disrupt species' reproductive cycles.

Some previous studies have found a link between PFAS chemicals and reduced hatching in turtle eggs. Last year, Boston’s mayor blocked artificial turf in parks over concerns about PFAS exposure.

“We have a great concern over the ability of these turtles to reproduce,” said Beyond Toxics Executive Director Lisa Arkin. “And because they are long lived, we may not even see the dire impacts on their populations for decades to come.”

Smith said the city is aware of those concerns, but ideally the fields should be available year-round. He said the project would include measures to protect turtle habitats, create a buffer from the ponds and potentially construct a protective berm.

“Maintaining the safety and protection of the turtles is at the forefront in this project,” said Smith.

The city had previously created three tentative designs. Some, including Arkin, said they didn't leave enough space.

“All the designs are kind of encroaching in on that buffer,” said City Councilor Lyndsie Leech at Wednesday’s meeting. “I'd like to see more about how we're ensuring that we're not destroying a very biodiverse ecosystem.”

Designs for the facility aren’t final, and City Council hasn’t yet approved the bond measure to fund it.

The proposal was paired with a plan to raise $15 million for Eugene Emeralds’ new stadium, as well as $750,000 for new pickleball courts at Lane Community College.

At the meeting, Councilor Jennifer Yeh said she was worried about the tax burden on voters. She said this could make it harder to pass levies in the future.

“I don't want to be in a position where I'm cutting essential services because we asked the voters for money,” she said, “and it's going for a baseball stadium instead of our police or fire or parks.”

Councilor Randy Groves said voters should have the final say, but the county first needs to confirm it will help pay for the new stadium.

Ultimately, the city councilors asked staff to divide the different facilities into three separate proposals. The council plans to discuss them again at a later date.

Nathan Wilk joined the KLCC News Team in 2022. He is a graduate from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Born in Portland, Wilk began working in radio at a young age, serving as a DJ and public affairs host across Oregon.