Little League Season is Threatened by Ball Field Damage

The fields remain much as they were after being flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Battery Park City’s $3 million artificial-turf ball fields will need a “total replacement” before they reopen, the Battery Park City Authority announced  on its website on last month. What that means for the Downtown Little League, and the 1,100 children who are expecting to play on them next spring, is unknown.

“We are frankly at the mercy of the Authority,” Downtown Little League President Bill Martino said. “We are hopeful that they are going to look to get the work started and completed as soon as possible.”

The fields, installed in the summer of 2011, were inundated with flood water from Hurricane Sandy.

It took nearly seven weeks for the Authority and its contractors to complete a damage assessment, and there are still unknowns remaining. In its online statement, the Authority said that until the artificial turf and the layers beneath it are removed, contractors will not know whether the complex of “storm management” and irrigation systems need to be repaired as well.

“As such, a determination as to duration of the project is not known,” the Authority wrote on its site.

A major component of the field is its drainage system, in which rainwater drains through the layers of porous materials below the artificial grass and is pumped into a 100,000-gallon tank in a residential building next to the field.

In early December, BPCA spokes­man Matt Monahan told Community Board 1’s Battery Park City Committee that there were worries about the contents of the water that soaked the fields.

“A source of our concern [is] for possible health issues from the foul water the surge carried, which contained salt from the river/harbor, backwash from overtaxed sewers and whatever else may have been in the water emerging from the tunnel,” Monahan later told the Trib in an email.

Martino said he was told by an Authority staff member several weeks before the online announcement to start looking for an alternate playing field. That was not an option, he replied.

“The only alternative is to cancel our season for 1,100 children and their families,” Martino said. “There are no other options, other than we have a season or we don’t.”

Both the artificial-turf fields at Pier 40 and Pier 25 reopened last month and it is unclear how the possible contamination may differ in Battery Park City.

“We understand that it was a terrible storm, but we also see that other sports fields that were under the same water are already open,” said Mark Costello, a former Downtown Little League president who serves on CB1’s Youth Committee and was involved in planning the fields. “So what we need from the Authority is openness and speed.”

The original installation took just under three months, and was carried out between the end of the Little League season and the start of the Downtown Soccer League’s season.

The field’s opening was delayed for close to two weeks because of particularly wet weather. It is unclear what impact winter weather would have on the construction, which involves the installation of layers of stone, geotextile fabric, padding and, finally, a carpet with “grass” fiber punched into it and weighted with coconut husks, peat and sand.

In November, before the need for total reconstruction of the fields was announced, a representative from Stan­tec, the firm that designed the field, said the company would like to avoid the use of a “cold weather” glue on the fields and instead make repairs in the spring.

While the Authority is beginning the process of hiring a contractor in charge of the construction, some question what changes should be made to the fields’ design to prevent a repeat of future storm damage.

“We hope they will be proactively ad­­dressing this situation so it can be as resilient as a lot of the other infrastructure in Battery Park City,” said Community Board 1 Chair Catherine Mc­Vay Hughes.

In the meantime, Martino said he re­mained optimistic that the field could be replaced, if not by the start of the league’s permit on March 1, then by the start of its season the following month.

“Of course I’m hopeful. I have to be hopeful,” Martino said. “Every time I get an email from a parent, which is a couple a day, I say we expect to be playing April 1.”

Costello questioned the timing and manner of the Authority’s announcement.

“Announcing this on a website without a courtesy call, without some background information, is very cavalier,” Costello said in a telephone interview. “It’s hard to understand why it’s coming out now, a few days before Christmas, why the community board was blindsided and the leagues, too.”

Uncertainty over the upcoming season, Costello added, is hard for parents, who, since December, have been signing their children up for baseball.

“It’s a big part of people’s lives,” he said.