Deerfield Selectboard wants to hear from UMass about spraying turf center

  • Turf Research and Education Center at 23 River Road in Deerfield. RECORDER FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2019 5:30:49 PM

DEERFIELD — Residents and Selectboard members said Wednesday they are growing frustrated that they have not heard back from the University of Massachusetts Amherst regarding their worry about chemicals sprayed at the Joseph Troll Turf Research Center in South Deerfield.

Selectboard member Carolyn Shores Ness said she would not hesitate to send UMass a cease-and-desist letter if the research facility resumes its experimental sprayings before representatives attend another Selectboard meeting to further address public concerns.

Mary Dettloff, deputy director for the Office of News and Media Relations at UMass, said she was told by the relevant parties at the university that they have not been asked back by the Selectboard since the Jan. 23 meeting they attended. Research center Superintendent James Poro, and Joe Shoenfeld, the associate director of UMass’ Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, attended that meeting to introduce themselves and take public input.

Detloff said they have been working steadily on a response to the questions raised and are nearly finished. She said they plan to reach out to the town to be placed on an upcoming agenda.

The Deerfield Selectboard is also the town’s Board of Health.

Poro and Shoenfeld were joined at the Jan. 23 meeting by Michelle DaCosta, associate professor of turfgrass physiology at UMass’ Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Robert Skalbite, farm manager at the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, and Tony Maroulis, executive director of external relations and university events.

At the Sept. 24 meeting, Ness said she had been approached weeks earlier by residents complaining about spraying at the 23 River Road facility, and she made a motion to direct the town to request from UMass the health and safety information about the substances or chemicals the facility uses and a description of future plans.

At the Jan. 23 meeting, Poro said he sometimes wears a yellow protective suit when he sprays, but added that wearing it goes “above and beyond what is required.” Shoenfeld said the focus of the facility, which he said is nationally renowned, is the management of turf used on public grounds and playing fields, not home lawns.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Ness said the fact that Poro “is suiting up” before sprayings indicates the chemicals carry enough potential harm to warrant diligent notification to abutters and residents. She said people will want to bring their pets indoors or close their windows.

“We need to get this resolved,” she said, adding that she does not want to be antagonistic.

Interim Town Administrator Diana Schindler said the town must first establish the strength of its argument of concern.

Selectboard member Henry “Kip” Komosa said he does not want the facility to change its operation, only to notify abutters when spraying will occur and which chemicals will be used.

Ness said it is simply common courtesy. She made a motion to have Schindler send UMass a letter requesting representatives’ presence at the scheduled April 3 meeting.

Residents David “Bud” Driver and Hannah Yaffe, who attended the late January meeting, addressed the Selectboard on Wednesday to discuss their concerns. Driver said he would like more answers about the spraying, but he has faith in UMass, which he views as a fine neighbor.

“I think my hair fell out because of my genes, you guys,” he said. “Not the spraying.”

Driver also said he knows Poro wants what’s best for Mountain View Estates, which he previously said is the name of the neighborhood around the research facility.

Yaffe said she wants the facility to put up a barrier to protect abutters from chemicals used.

Dettloff previously said the turf research facility conducts about 70 sprayings a year, typically of pesticides or herbicides used mainly to curb the spread of weeds so they will not interfere with research on different types of grass. She said researchers never spray while children are waiting at a nearby school bus stop. She also said staffers stay mindful of wind directions, and the facility always adheres to Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements.

The facility – which consists of 18 acres and includes a 3,000-square-foot structure that houses offices, lab space, meeting rooms, small classrooms and storage and space for equipment maintenance – is named after the late Dr. Joseph Troll, described as a pioneer in turfgrass management and a longtime leader in the Turf Program at UMass.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.




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