The Brunswick Planning Department on Friday recommended the town’s Planning Board delay approval of Bowdoin College’s Pickard Field Athletic Complex renovation plan, which has drawn criticism and concern from community members concerned about possible noise, light and chemical pollution.

The Planning Board is set to begin its final review of Bowdoin’s $15 million project — which will include the installation of three turf fields, more than 20 permanent light towers, new seating and more — at its upcoming Tuesday meeting. The Planning Department’s recommendation may keep the college waiting for approval until an independent third party can verify claims that new artificial turf fields would not contain PFAS, a class of chemicals researchers have linked to several types of cancer.

The delay would mark at least a temporary victory for the dozens of residents who have sought to slow or stop the project.

During the public comment section of last Monday’s Town Council meeting, two community members asked the council to impose an emergency moratorium to prevent Bowdoin College from installing additional turf surfaces, which some research has linked to PFAS.

“You have (enacted) the moratorium so that you protect Mere Brook — this is just another potential devastating negative impact,” resident Carol Liscovitz told the council. “We need to just step back and think really hard about what it is that we’re going to be committing to.”

The Town Council has not imposed a moratorium. Chairperson Jim Mason could not be reached for comment.


Matt Orlando, Bowdoin’s treasurer and senior vice president for finance and administration, vowed the school would install only PFAS-free turf and warned community members to guard against “misinformation” amplified by the project’s opponents.

“It is important to stay focused on the data and the science, rather than succumbing to emotion and conjecture,” he wrote in a statement. “We have guarantees from the manufacturer that PFAS is not used anywhere in the fabrication process, we have detailed lab studies on the product lines we intend to buy, and, notwithstanding, we have engaged a consultant to test our carpet and infill before installation to be absolutely sure PFAS was not added to the materials somewhere in the process. It is hard to imagine conducting any higher level of due diligence.”

Bowdoin’s submission packet to the Planning Board, totaling more than 600 pages, contained reports from two separate consultant groups detailing the results of testing done on FieldTurf materials.

An analysis from Connecticut-based TRC found trace amounts of PFAS in some of the proposed turf varieties at levels far below limits set by the EPA and the country’s most restrictive individual states. (Maine has not set soil concentration guidelines for the specific PFAS compounds in question.)

“Based on this evaluation, the detection of very low levels of a limited number of PFAS in the synthetic turf does not represent a human health risk to those using the synthetic turf ballfields,” the report reads.

Planning Board staff have recommended an independent third-party review testing materials before approving Bowdoin’s application. The college will also need a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection before it can begin work on the project, which it hopes to begin next spring and finish in time for its spring 2024 sports season.

Despite neighbors’ concerns that the new facilities will create bothersome noise and light pollution, Planning Department staff found the rest of Bowdoin’s application satisfies the town’s zoning ordinance.

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