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Comment: Close the Oak Bay High artificial turf field to save the environment

The Oak Bay High School field has proven to be the worst of the worst from Day 1.

A commentary by a retired college administrator who was the founding director of the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea.

Here we go again with news of Oak Bay High School’s plastic field contaminating nearby Bowker Creek

The truth of the matter is these artificial fields constantly shed some of the massive 52 tonnes of thermoplastic elastomer pellets and strands of plastic used on each field.

There are now at least 18 such fields in Greater Victoria, owned by various municipalities, the University of Victoria, private schools and school districts.

Much of the plastic literally walks away on the footwear and clothing of players and can be found in parking lots, vehicles and laundry rooms throughout the region. Inevitability, this plastic finds its way down storm drains and into the ocean.

Users of these all-weather surfaces make a compelling case for plastic fields, as real grass apparently can’t withstand such intensive use. Those responsible for selecting the artificial option therefore have a special obligation to focus on effective containment of these insidious plastics.

Each field requires careful management and frequent monitoring.

The Oak Bay High School field has proven to be the worst of the worst from Day 1 due to its location, inadequate containment design and lax response by school district administrators.

The field is just 14 metres from Bowker Creek. The required concrete retaining walls encompass only half the field with none where they are needed most, where the field abuts the creek.

The field’s perimeter drainage system collects hundreds of kilograms of plastics every year. It has no engineered method of entrapment, and therefore dumps plastic into Oak Bay’s storm water system and the creek.

The result has been repeated catastrophic pollution of the creek.

I was a whistleblower on this precise issue four years ago when we first observed plastic shards and pellets on the walkways and natural grass areas around the Oak Bay High field.

A group of citizens did what we could to clean up the area but we were appalled to discover plastic in Bowker Creek and tracked it all the way to the beach where the creek meets the ocean.

The Friends of Bowker Creek have recently discovered this is still happening.

In December 2019, after learning as much as we could about the problems with this particular field, we met formally with Greater Victoria School District’s senior administrators and elected trustees.

In a subsequent meeting they committed to permanently upgrading the containment measures at the field and yet today, the school district still relies on the same flimsy patchwork of failed amateur engineering fixes and excuses.

This is unacceptable. Regrettably, the field must again be closed until the obvious environmental protection solutions are put in place.

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