Soccer field repairs come under fire

Chris Grabe, a landscaping contractor, is donating men Chris Grabe, a landscaping contractor, is donating men and equipment to reclaim and reconstruct soccer fields in Roberto Clemente Park on Broadway in Brentwood. (Sept. 6, 2013) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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Critics of how a project to build new soccer fields at Roberto Clemente park in Brentwood was handled say the job was started without permits in place and failed to follow town protocol.

Though work on the Nicholas Fritz Memorial Field started weeks ago, as of Friday a clearing and grading permit had not been issued for the site, town officials said.

A town spokeswoman said Friday that a permit was in the works for the site plan, which includes two soccer fields -- one for youth teams and one for adults -- covering 3.75 acres and being donated by a Brentwood church so its soccer leagues can play there on Sundays.

Iglesia de Jesucristo Palabra Miel approached the town in April because the church wanted to pay to create the new fields.

But critics of how the project was handled allege that the town allowed improvements to be made without following the permitting procedure they normally would if the property hadn't been town-owned.

Councilman Anthony Senft, liaison to the parks department and to this project, called the idea that anything "underhanded" was occurring "utterly ridiculous."

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Town Attorney Robert Cicale said the work started as minimal raking and field maintenance that the church and its volunteers could have performed without a permit.

"Once they get in there and they start going over stuff and making improvements it became clear later on that the amount of grading they would have to do would require a simple grading permit," Cicale said.

He added that there would be no stop-work order until the permit is issued because "in this case there's no potential harm with moving dirt around."

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Former deputy parks Commissioner George Hafele was among several critics of the way the project was handled. He said permits and a town board resolution should have been in place before work started.

"These things are in place as safeguards for the general public, and they're just not being adhered to," Hafele said.

Hafele welcomed the donation of new soccer fields, but said the town board wasn't transparent in its process. Without permits and proper procedure, he said, there could be environmental and safety violations, town liability, or abuses of prevailing wage, and the lack of a permit sets a bad precedent.

"If you can find people who are community-minded and want to donate time and material to fixing up the soccer fields, my goodness, that's great. But it's just got to be done properly, and it has to be done through channels."

Senft portrayed the project as a positive. "How anyone can characterize this as anything other than a field for young boys and girls to have an opportunity to play sports on is beyond me," Senft said.

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The Islip Town Board is expected to vote Tuesday to accept a donation on behalf of the church for the leveling and seeding of the soccer fields. The labor and materials were donated to the church by Chris Grabe of Islandia Recycling, who estimated the total cost at $70,000.

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