Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez speaks during the Statutory Meeting at City Hal,l Port-of-Spain yesterday.

The proposal to remove the natural grass which covers the Nelson Mandela Park, St Clair and replace it with 3D Astroturf has not been cast in stone.

And while Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez assures it will not cost the Port-of-Spain City Corporation (POSCC) a cent to install as it will be done via a Public Private Partnership (PPP), he is urging citizens to embrace change.

He said although the idea was first brought to the POSCC a few years ago, it was shelved – and had now been brought to the fore once again as part of government’s plan to revitalize the capital city as they look to develop and monetize 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 Port-of-Spain City Council has continued 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, cyclists, joggers, and even keep fit classes – it was determined that it is an area with facilities that can generate additional revenue but which is currently under-utilized.

He said among the current challenges facing them are the holes that need to be filled in, while the grass is not properly maintained.

The mayor said after looking at the situation and examining how other countries were improving their green spaces, “We looked at the proposal to make it a multi-sport facility where we can play football, netball, basketball, hockey, rugby…and when we spoke in the consultation, people mentioned things like skate-boarding, biking and volleyball to encourage young people.”

Confronted with arguments that this move would adversely impact the ecological and environmental factors of scale, Martinez added: “From what I have been told, the third generation Astroturf now is not like what you would see down at Tacarigua which is first generation Astroturf. This new Astroturf is being used by a lot of sporting disciplines around the world and it is also easier to maintain and you are able to get a lot more usage out of it.”

He said, “It is designed for perforation so it allows water to go through the turf because they use fibres versus resin.”

Indicating the Port-of-Spain City Council was also in the process of doing its own research into the benefits of the proposed move, Martinez said a second public consultation will be held shortly.

He said, “The Astroturf is not to take away from the green space or the leisure area because that is still there. The objective behind it is to give the public something more, and in moving to revitalize the city of Port-of-Spain, we are looking at all the options available to us.”

Asked how they intended to manage the facility and keep out stray animals and homeless people, Martinez said stricter management rules will be implemented to ensure the standard is maintained.

He assured the residents and concerned citizens, “At the end of the day, we want to ensure the revitalisation of Port-of-Spain happens in a very constructive, respectful and enjoyable way. We want participation from citizens and that all stakeholders, that is, the citizens can benefit from it.”

He admitted they wanted to move the timelines faster, but indicated it had to be done in tandem with the concerns raised and ensure there was no adverse environmental impact.

Even though environmentalist Gary Aboud described the proposal as incredible, he said it was, “A shocking move in the wrong direction.”

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

Declaring this proposal to “be 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.

He concluded, “With the greatest of respect, somebody must be drinking some very powerful puncheon to have come up with this idea. This has to be the most stupid idea I have ever heard.”

He said it was ludicrous and not environmentally sustainable, and the long-term effects would be evident in the inability by such green spaces to absorb run-off during rainfall events.