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COLUMN: Lakeshore sports field 'wrong on several counts'

'Our shore, including this small natural habitat, is much loved by Barrie citizens,' says columnist; another protest scheduled for Wednesday
This area along Lakeshore Drive in Barrie is the location for the city's multi-use turf field for youth sports.

The City of Barrie has wanted to move the Sea Cadets from their lakefront premises at the foot of Bayfield Street for decades.

The Sea Cadets' current building is modest and unobtrusive. Even its chain-link fence is easy to miss, and their small patch of waterfront barely visible.

The city wants to spend $4.55 million (city estimate) to move the Sea Cadets.

I wonder if there is a plan for the old property, and will city residents have an opportunity to voice our opinion?

I make this statements because there was no public meeting regarding the Sea Cadets' move. The Barrie Rowing Club (I’m a longtime member) was informed of the move just a couple of weeks before council voted on the project. We are concerned how construction around our boathouse could impact our activities.

The Barrie Canoe and Kayak Club, which shares the premises and dock, has the same concern.

Walking my Ward 5 councillor, Robert Thomson, around our boathouse, I explained that the Barrie Rowing Club was not against moving the Sea Cadets to the Southshore Centre. We wanted councillors to see for themselves why we were concerned that construction could make it difficult, even impossible, for us to operate.

Since then, at least two other councillors have had such a tour.

The “bottom line” is that not only can we, the Barrie Rowing Club, live with the Sea Cadets' move to Southshore, we see potential synergies. An obvious one is that when there is too little wind to sail, the water is perfect for rowing, and vice versa. The Sea Cadets might embrace rowing as the ultimate “team” sport.

As an enthusiastic former sailor, I see sailing as a wonderful way for rowers to pay close attention to winds – a vital safety matter.

Also, the Barrie Rowing Club and Sea Cadets could share the same fleet of small outboard motor boats. Both groups use these boats to teach youth the elements of their sports and – importantly – to ensure safety on the water.

My concern for the Barrie Rowing Club was why I failed to pay attention to the other project on the city’s agenda — the multi-sport playing field.

However, I am far from pleased by the multi-sport playing field. I very much believe in sports, particularly those embracing a team of individuals working toward a common goal.

However, this multi-sport field is wrong on several counts.

First and foremost is the proposed synthetic playing surface. Hammered by soccer cleats and helped by ultraviolet radiation (sunlight), these surfaces will break down into micro-plastics. Rain would rinse these tiny particles into our Kempenfelt Bay.

Synthetic playing field surfaces are the second largest source of microplastics in Toronto’s water. They have been found in the tissues of most animals – and the meat we eat. 

Despite the filtration systems employed to purify drinking water by most cities, they are also present in 95 per cent of the drinking consumed by Americans. And, presumably, Canadians, too. 

The south end of Barrie gets its water from our new surface water treatment plant, just 1.5 kilometres from the proposed sports field.

All manner of health concerns are attributed to microplastics. The link between human health and their ingestion is strongly suspected.

It is prudent not to add another source of microplastics to our precious water. Is anybody at city hall paying attention?

Of course, we can remove microplastics from our drinking water. However, known methods to do this today — eg. reverse osmosis, boiling coupled with filtration — are costly.

The city suggests that we should “showcase” these field sports by creating a waterfront venue. In fact, they do not need to be showcased. Soccer and football get plenty of exposure through their professional leagues. Rugby and lacrosse are part of many schools’ intermural activities. None of these sports have any connection to water.

Children are delightful, but also contrary. We pushed both of our daughters into the same sports in an attempt to simplify logistics. Imagine one child plays football while the other prefers soccer or baseball. It is convenient if several playing fields are available at the same address. There is (barely) space for one sports field at the proposed lakeside location.

Other artificial sports fields in Barrie are located at Maple Ridge Secondary School on Mapleview Drive East, and behind Georgian College at J.C. Massie Field on Nelson Street. 

Our eight-kilometre long park curving around Kempenfelt Bay is a precious and rare resource for Barrie. Anyone who doubts that, please visit any other city with a shoreline.

We have a walking trail with lots of benches connecting a military memorial, the Southshore Centre, open space for picnics, a city marina, two creeks, children’s playgrounds, the old city centre (with restaurants), one large beach and two smaller ones, plus a sailing club.

Strikingly, apart from the historic Mechanic’s Building (Southshore Centre) there are very few buildings on this eight-kilometre park. This is a matchless space, particularly for such a small city.

The park has one modest piece of natural habitat. This is barely large enough for a red fox and family to “earn a living.” Of course, there are other creatures, too, but I am not the person to list them.

My point is that our shore, including this small natural habitat, is much loved by Barrie citizens. It is heavily used by all sorts of people walking, bicycling, rollerblading, pushing baby carriages, running, and leaning on walkers – winter and summer.

This playing field will encroach on that patch of wilderness, cover it with a “dead” synthetic surface and surround it with a gated fence. It will then become too small to accommodate the many different creatures which make it their home.

Barrie has no shortage of alternative sites for this sports field.

The City of Barrie claims to be bird and pollinator friendly and respect the environment. We need to live up to that claim. We need to leave our small wilderness as it is. Taking a bite out of it will destroy it. 

In 10 to 20 years, Barrie’s population is projected to double. At that time, twice as many people will be hoping to enjoy our waterfront. They will be grateful to us if we pass it on to them – intact!

There will be a second rally protesting the location of the multi-sports field at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12 in front of Barrie City Hall.

Peter Bursztyn is a self-proclaimed “recovering scientist” who has a passion for all things based in science and the environment. The now-retired former university academic has taught and carried out research at universities in Africa, Britain and Canada. As a member of BarrieToday’s community advisory board, he also writes a semi-regular column.