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A boy plays with a football at the Nelson Mandela Park in St Clair, on Friday.

The Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ) has now voiced its concerns over the intended replacement of the natural grass at the Nelson Mandela Park in St Clair bringing the issue seemingly into a fight for turf– not as a gang terminology– but as a fight for conservation and respect for nature.

The CCSJ has called on Port- of- Spain mayor Joel Martinez to listen to the cry of the people and the cry of the earth and leave the grass that covers a large part of Nelson Mandela Park, in St Clair intact.

Martinez said that replacing grass with astroturf will not cost the corporation a cent to install, however, chairman of the CCSJ, Leela Ramdeen has urged Martinez to reject “this Trojan horse and save our natural space.”

Following the CCSJ statement earlier yesterday, Guardian Media contacted Martinez for a comment.

Last night, he responded and said that after consultation with all stakeholders the project for the development of the Nelson Mandela Park, which included replacing of the natural grass will be put on hold.

Martinez said a notice for consultation was put out to the public, the stakeholders.”We had the consultation and we asked the stakeholders for their view on the development of the park. After the consultation there were alot of different views mostly against the development of the park as presented. It appeared that the concept of using astroturf ignited alot of negative responses,” he said.

He added that there was a protest in terms of the fact that they would have had this as a done deal and that they did not do enough research but added that it was indicated to them that we came to the public because there was a concept of how they would have better utilized the park.

“It did not turn out in the way which we had expected it, however, therefore, we will put the project on pause,” Martinez said.

He added that as a result they will not be entertaining any proposals towards the astroturfing of the park.”In other words we have consulted with the stakeholders, we have listened to them and we will act in the manner in which the stakeholders have requested.”

“So, therefore, effective immediately we will not request any proposals for the development of Mandela Park and we will listen to what the stakeholders have presented to us and we will take what is necessary to ensure that the park remains in the way in which they envisioned it,” Martinez said.

Ramdeen, in the CCSJ’s statement earlier yesterday, had said that the environmental crisis is a moral challenge for T&T.

“Just look around at the environmental degradation that surrounds us. Mayor Martinez, we are all stewards/trustees of our environment. Let us acknowledge our interconnectedness/interdependence and build right relationships with our environment. Not everything that is free is good for our city/country. The value of green spaces in our city is not to be underestimated. Since T&T is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, CCSJ calls for sustainable, responsible, environmentally responsible revitalisation of our city.”

She added that serious consideration must be given to the concerns raised by activists/citizens such as Ernest Bertrand, of the environmental and other damage that astroturf can cause, “example, to the aquifer system that supplies water to residents of the foothills of the Northern Range.

Further loss of green space of the size touted for astroturfing will significantly decrease the quantity of rainwater absorbed despite claims of limited stripping of topsoil for the astroturf. …run-off water water will increase, and if you think we have problems with flooding now there will be a manifold increase if and when this astroturf is laid.”

Ramdeen quoted from Pope St John Paul II, who said: “We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well-being of future generations.”

She added that astroturf may look good, but plastic is plastic.

She said, “Astroturf creates pollution as it is not biodegradable. It also absorbs heat and feels hot in direct sun. And if the plan is to astroturf the space and convert it to a fee-for-use facility, how will this benefit the many people who currently use the space free of charge? As Pope Francis reminds us: “The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion.” This plan will certainly not be inclusive.”

“Mayor Martinez, the environment is God’s gift to everyone. CCSJ urges you to treasure it and preserve it for our current and future generations by turfing out astroturf,” she added.

On Friday, during an interview with he Guardian Media, Martinez said the proposal to remove the natural grass which covers the Nelson Mandela Park in St Clair and replace it with 3D astroturf is not cast in stone.

Martinez said although the idea was first brought to the corporation a few years ago, it was shelved and had now been brought to the fore once again as part of Government’s plan to revitalise the city as they look to develop and monetise assets.

Following its first public consultation last Monday, Martinez said, “It doesn’t mean it is a done deal or that we have already secured a provider or anything like that.”

He explained the rationale behind the proposal.

Claiming the city council continues to receive “requests for use of spaces that we don’t have in the city of Port-of-Spain,” Martinez said when they looked at the events which are accommodated daily at the Nelson Mandela Park, which includes a play area for children, tennis, football, rugby, cricket, cycling, joggers and keep fit classes – it was determined that it is an area with facilities that can generate additional revenue but which is currently under-utilised. Environmentalist Gary Aboud has described the proposal as incredible but a “shocking move in the wrong direction.”

Challenging the mayor to plant trees along the periphery of the park instead, Aboud said such green spaces encourage people to commune with nature and any move to remove the natural flora and fauna “would prohibit water filtration into the natural water aquifer.”

Saying the proposal was “an incredibly stupid approach to the preservation of natural spaces” which also ensure persons can enjoy fresh air, Aboud pointed out that T&T is a signatory to the Paris Agreement and with global emphasis now being focused on preserving the environment, this would be a backward step.