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City lock policy could put turf project in jeopardy

An effort to put artificial turf on the softball field in Montesano may have hit its biggest roadblock as an executive decision announced during the Montesano City Council meeting on March 11 will not allow the groups that have a usage agreement with the city to control when the fields are locked. That will impact both the softball and baseball fields owned by the city.

Community Services Director Mike Wincewicz announced he had found the authority in existing city code to decide when to lock the gates. Trying to settle down an argument over the locks that has been simmering for the past six weeks, he announced that a dedicated employee will serve as a full-time parks groundskeeper. The employee had been splitting his time between public works and parks.

“My policy would be, ‘We don’t want to play on the field when it is going to do the field harm,’” Wincewicz said. “I want to sit down with each of the user groups and talk about their specifics. I would like to see cooperation between the user groups and the city.”

A bit of a turf war had been brewing between the city and the Montesano Girls Softball Association, which uses Crait Field, since the softball association stated they would not move forward with the installation at Crait Field without a policy to keep the field locked to protect the investment.

In April of last year, the Montesano Girls Softball Association acquired artificial turf from the now-defunct Everett Raptors professional indoor arena football team and the Nike headquarters in Portland with the intent to install the turf at Crait Field, located at the intersection of North First Street and Cedar Avenue West. Since that time, the softball association and the city have been in negotiations about how the field would be installed and who would maintain the field.

The debate has been raging for months as to the future of the fields, whether to lock them and, ultimately, whether the user groups would put turf on the fields if they weren’t locked all the time.

Former mayor and current Montesano School Board member Dick Stone was one of two individuals who voiced a wish for the park to stay open at all times. Mayor Ken Estes said there were also at least two letters sent to the city expressing a desire to keep the parks open.

“If safety was the issue, you are far more likely to get injured playing baseball than you are from leaving the gates unlocked, but we accept that risk because the benefits outweigh the risk,” Stone said. “If we locked up every facility that somebody might use incorrectly we would have to lock up Fleet Park…we would have to lock up Kelsey Park…we’d certainly have to lock up the city forest and not allow anybody to use it.”

The user groups have stated over the past few meetings that the safety of the children is a concern as needles and dog feces have been found on the fields.

“We are just asking to protect an investment to give the kids the best experience possible,” Montesano Little League President Steve Bove said. “We have people that have put in hours and hours of time to work on these fields and clean these fields. We are here for the safety of our children. If there is a needle, if there is glass our kids get hurt. Those 250 kids are under my care and that is why I’m here.”

Softball Association President Lynsi Polanco said in an interview after the meeting she feels the turf project is at a standstill with the city leaving the fields unlocked. Polanco hopes there could be a time in the future for a workshop to go over the possibility of turf installation with the city in more depth.

She said there seem to be three directions the softball association could move forward. To continue to fight the city to lock the fields, explore a possible option to build a field in Central Park or to sell the turf and give back all of the grant money. For now, the city seems to be pleased just to get a handle on the maintainence of the fields.

“It is our intent to get a better handle on the parks and their management and the facilities,” Wincewicz said.

He said the city’s statute “says pretty much in black and white that the city makes the decision when the parks are open and when they are closed. My recommendation to city council as far as locking the parks is going to be when the ball parks are wet and they shouldn’t be walked on, I think a padlock should take the place of a keep off the field sign. I want to get a better handle on who manages the parks and be more involved in that management.”