I was intrigued by the recent column submitted by Aaron Kitch regarding Bowdoin’s plan to improve its athletic fields (“Maine Voices: Redevelopment of Bowdoin athletic fields a cause for concern,” Nov. 26).

Initially, I was curious to know how an English Prof. could be an authority on chemistry, medicine, insect habitats and the “serious challenges to the community” presented by forever chemicals. And while I guess tenure provides the Prof. protection to say what he wants, I was surprised that he would suggest that his employer was being negligent or acting in bad faith.

A rendering of Brunswick’s proposed upgrades to its Pickard Field athletic complex. Contributed / Bowdoin College

Though he never revealed it in his piece, Prof. Kitch lives next door to Bowdoin’s athletic fields, and that makes me wonder if he has a genuine concern about the community or whether this is a “not in my back yard,” or NIMBY, viewpoint. Some neighbors seem to want only the benefit and none of the downsides that can come with living adjacent to a college.

In his column, Prof. Kitch references Maine farms and issues with PFAS. That is an entirely different situation and shouldn’t be brought into this discussion. That’s like saying a pond next to a nuclear plant and pond on the other side of the country have similar contamination issues just because they are ponds.

Prof. Kitch also references a new turf field in Portsmouth, N.H., that was found to contain very low levels of PFAS. Independent investigators determined that there was no human health risk to those that use the field.

Much of the Portsmouth field debate is over organic fluorine levels. Fluorine is a naturally occurring element present in the soil, air and water. It can be picked up from seawater, of which Portsmouth has an ample supply; it can be deposited from rain clouds moving across the country; it can be deposited from erosion in the soil and bedrock. It seems like fluorine is prevalent throughout much of the globe. Yet there are some people in Portsmouth, and now in Brunswick, who are making the argument that because the turf has tested positive for some level of fluorine, it should not be used.

Keep in mind that if people like Prof. Kitch keep Bowdoin from building a few turf fields because they enjoy long walks in the grass, then turf fields at Brunswick High School or for the Town of Brunswick will also be pulled off the table.

I’ve spent the better part of the last decade coaching travel baseball at fields across New England. Never mind keeping up with college peers, Bowdoin’s baseball and softball fields are inferior to the majority of high school, yes, high school fields. It is a testament to the abilities of Bowdoin coaches that they have managed to field competitive teams given the substandard state of their facilities.

Do Bowdoin softball or baseball players enjoy playing their home games at Colby or Tufts because their own fields are unplowable and covered with snow? Do they like spending most of April practicing well into the night inside a field house simply because there are no lights to permit practices on their fields after early sunsets? Such considerations are less important to Prof. Kitch than restricting activity on those fields.

Let’s hope that local officials are not fooled by the narrow interests and scare tactics of the NIMBY crowd. I certainly am not.


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