PITTSFIELD >> The commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection has affirmed that the permitting process for an artificial turf athletic field on the Berkshire Community College campus was proper.
Martin Suuberg issued his decision on July 29, adopting the recommendation of a judge who presided over an environmental appeal of the permits before upholding earlier decisions by city and Western Region DEP officials.
A group of 12 citizens had appealed the environmental permits for the $2.1 million turf field, which would be located near Paterson Field House, across West Street from the main BCC campus. A hearing on the appeal was held in late February.
The project has been in development over the past three years by a community group in cooperation with the college. The field would be used for area youth and college sports.
Reached on Friday, Michael MacDonald, who is acting chairman of the community group planning the field project, said the commissioner's decision "was certainly what we expected ... but it is not final yet; it's really a wait and see."
The appellants could now ask the DEP for a reconsideration or appeal the decision to Berkshire Superior Court.
Carol Zullo, of Pittsfield, one of the leaders of the citizen group, said Friday, "We probably didn't have a snowball's chance in hell. It was in a DEP arena and a DEP judge; but in Massachusetts, that is the route you have to take."
She added, "I would love to take this to the next level, but it is a matter of money. I need money."
Zullo said the appeal thus far, handled for the group by the law firm of McGregor & Legere of Boston, has been expensive.
The citizen group opposed the turf field project both on environmental grounds because of nearby wetlands sites, and over the materials in the "crumb rubber" filler used in the fields. They contend the material has been shown to pose a serious potential health threat.
The community group planning the field contends that no study of the health effects of the rubber materials used in turf fields has concluded that they present a hazard to humans.
The DEP focused its review on the environmental questions and concerns, with officials saying that the safety of the materials used is outside the agency's jurisdiction.
Zullo said Friday, however, that draft reports on federal studies of the possible effects of crumb rubber are expected to be released by the end of 2016. Information on the studies can be found at epa.gov.
Timothy Jones of the DEP's Office of Appeals and Dispute Resolution issued his decision in the appeal in mid-July, rejecting the citizen group's appeal of the order of conditions for the project pertaining to wetlands buffer zones. Those conditions had been approved in early 2015 by the Pittsfield Conservation Commission, and in an enhanced form later in the year by the DEP's Western Region office.
In addressing questions raised by the opponents, Jones wrote: "A preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that the resource areas are properly delineated; the project complies with the Riverfront Area performance standards; the project complies with standards for work in the buffer zone ... and there will be no stormwater point source discharges in buffer zone or resource areas."
MacDonald said the appeal thus far has added significantly to the cost of the project, which had been put out to bid and a contracting firm selected. About $60,000 was incurred for environment protection refinements added into the project design, in part in reaction to the comments of opponents.
Among other expenses, wetlands consultant Emily Stockman, of Stockman Associates, and civil engineer Eric Bernardin, of Fuss & O'Neill, performed additional work on the turf project and assisted during the appeal process.
Another round of fundraising will be required in the fall, prior to a re-bidding of the project, MacDonald said Friday.
He said that if the appeal is dropped later this month, the project would still have to wait until early 2017. However, the construction phase would require only six to eight weeks, he said.
MacDonald, an attorney, represented the college — listed as the defendant in the appeal — without charge. Elizabeth Kimball, an attorney with the DEP, represented the agency during the appeal.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.