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Scorched Earth

Island Life

Just for laughs, at the special Park District meeting this past Saturday, I asked what seemed to be a fairly obvious question, and that was: "Can you play on the fields as they are now?", referring of course to what are designated the VES Fields in the on-going, laugh-a-minute imbroglio that is the Vashon Park District dog and pony show. This wasn’t a trick question, but it seemed to catch Parks Commission chairman Joe Wald somewhat off guard and after a pause I got my answer- yes. I already knew this- I was just checking. This was because I wanted to hear from the powers that claim to be that doing nothing more on these fields could be a real option to consider. Another reason to stop this madness might just be exemplified by an exchange that followed involving the true cost of getting this ill-conceived job done. During what was a brief back and forth, at least five different numbers were quoted, and with cost overruns and unexpected contingencies the highest figure of $195 thousand might be expected to double before the project is completed.
Fast forward to the following Tuesday night and Truman O’Brien’s question to the board regarding the fact that the $95 thousand currently budgeted to get this $195K task completed didn’t seem to be a sufficient quantity of cash for the task. Board member and accounting whiz Bill Ameling was quick to respond that they were talking about $95K net, not gross, which after some explanation seemed to mean that the Parks would only have the $95K to spend, and the rest of the monies would come from the diligent labors of legions of Keebler Elves as they scrape and shovel every morning before sunrise out on the VES field in order to collect the precious piles of pure gold unicorn poop nuggets left after a night of frolic, as the field has been found to be a surprisingly welcoming habitat for these terrestrial narwhals.
All fantasies aside, which is asking a lot in this case, the stacked board which has left us with a white elephant of a project through cronyism and mismanagement continues to point fingers at everyone but themselves regarding fault or blame. With all fairness, Lu-Ann Branch and John Hopkins are trying to reach a solution on this, while the other three of five are content to forge ahead regardless of the warning signs and red flags that seem now to be up at all corners of this project. The denials of the three seem to be best exemplified by the last minute dramas at of both these past two meetings regarding the non-transparency of the process by which the former and future VES project manager, Mike Mattingly, was rehired. It came to light after the meeting that this hiring was news to both Branch and Hopkins. As any new hiring requires the approval of the entire Board, this appeared to directly fly in the face of Board policy. In their report about Park transgressions, the state auditors had cautioned against what they had found to be a lack of transparency and accountability, a problem which, given this latest incident, seems not to have been deemed a problem by at least Chairman Wald. This was revealed as something way more than evident at this last meeting. In spite of a number of requests by Branch throughout the meeting for a discussion of the Mattingly rehiring, Chairman Wald quickly gaveled the meeting closed as Branch was trying to have it recognized at the end of the night, in spite of protests voiced by both Branch and members of the audience.
Lu-Ann has said that a number of my comments are unhelpful in solving this problem of the VES fields project. To that I would answer that I have a right to ask any of the questions that I have, or might have, as it seems they are not getting asked and they are in need of some answers. One of the questions that I brought up at Saturday’s meeting was about water, something that seems of be of more than a passing importance on this Island, and anywhere else for that matter. The second part of Mr. O’Brien’s question above had to do with water. In fact, it was more of a suggestion, and that was to hook up the existing water pumps to the electric grid, water the fields, keep them alive and play on them, and forget the rest of the project until a time when something other than unicorn nugget fantasy funds are available. As it was, last year the Park District paid an apparent $18,000 for a diesel generator to run these pumps at least twelve hours a day in order to not have the new grass on the field dry up and blow away.
In fact, that wouldn’t be a bad option, letting the fields die, as then the smoke and mirrors being thrown up by the gang of three on the board would be seen for what it is. But that, as Lu-Ann might say, isn’t helpful, to which I would agree. But she also said that my questioning her use of the term sustainable watering- which it is indeed somewhat of an oxymoron- was not helpful either. There is, however, a whole series of questions about water involved in this project that I had not heard asked about these fields, so I asked them. One was a voicing of my concern over the massive use of water and fertilizer in order to keep a sand based grass field alive during our no rain summers. I understand that sub surface sand allows for better drainage and less muddy fields and field damage. I asked about where that runoff water might be going, and was told of the extensive drain pipe system that had been installed under the field to shunt of excess water. One might ask where this shunted water might be shunting off to, and I did. It appears there is a catch basin in a ditch by the highway that receives this bounty of "waste" water and field chemistry, which according to Mr. Mattingly was then directed to the town waste treatment plant. According to another audience member, that was not the case- that more than likely the runoff water just goes into the ground.
There was also uncertainty as to exactly how much water is to be used on these fields, and in the grand tradition of our Parks crew we were given a rough figure of somewhere between five and thirty thousand gallons- it sounded as if that was in one watering, although a reliable estimation of needed frequency seemed sketchy at best. Admittedly, water needs vary, but 30,000 gallon blocks of water to keep Justin and Chelsea in soccer heaven seems as close to absurd as one might want to get. And if it does indeed require that much water to keep these fields alive, one has to ask what will happen when summer restrictions kick in, which is why I questioned the delusion of sustainable watering to start with. Will Island residents then question the sanity of creating a pretty grass sandbox so that we can be seen in the same circles as the Bainbridge Island soccer clique? I know, that wasn’t helpful, but maybe someone should have been asking for it back before this particular barn door was blown off its hinges. At this point, help seems an awful long way away.