Environmental damage, plastic waste and personal safety hazards — those were among the complaints that bubbled up at a hearing at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Thursday, as opponents of the regional high school’s proposed athletic field renovation took the stage in the latest installment of the project’s review. 

The public hearing also included continued testimony from project advocates and high school officials, who emphasized the practicality of the project and the turf field.

Thursday marked the second full hearing for the project, which is under review by the commission as a development of regional impact (DRI). The hearing’s agenda was rescheduled after a hearing originally scheduled for Feb. 4 was cut short due to a disruptive Zoom bombing incident.    

The high school’s $7 million plan to renovate its aging athletic fields proposes installing five new natural grass fields and a new synthetic turf track and field and grandstand, but the inclusion of a synthetic infield has kicked up a cloud of controversy in the community, drawing sharp divisions between Islanders on both sides of the issue. 

Thursday’s hearing, which drew more than 125 participants and 20 speakers, tackled testimonies from a lengthy list of Island organizations averse to the turf, including the project’s primary opponent — the Field Fund, which have been advocating for grass field renovations since 2017.

An inaugural hearing covered details of the high school’s application and testimony from a half-dozen project advocates.

On Thursday, Dardanella Slavin, a founding member of the Field Fund, began testimony with a near 30-minute overview of the Field Fund’s position, calling the synthetic turf dangerous, environmentally hazardous and out of line with Island conservation goals.

“At the moment the Island community is rallying to reduce our carbon footprint, our plastic consumption and . . . prioritize climate action. The installation of a plastic field is antithetical to the direction the Island is heading,” Ms. Slavin said.

In a series of testimonies that followed, community members and organization leaders, many of whom testified on behalf of the Field Fund, pulled at similar threads, voicing emphatic — and in some cases dire — concerns about a plastic field’s impact on climate change. 

Suzan Bellincampi, executive director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Santuary, a Massachusetts Audubon Society property, said runoff from the field could seep into the Island’s groundwater, threatening bird sanctuaries and wildlife. Brendan O’Neill of the Vineyard Conservation Society said the decaying plastic left over as the field ages would threaten sustainability, and oceanographer Sara-Jeanne Royer said turf field plastics emit dangerous levels of greenhouse gas. 

“It’s the worst-case scenario by making the decision of using synthetic turf for the future . . . it’s basically promoting climate change,” Ms. Royer said.

Although hearing chairman Doug Sederholm had strictly prohibited discussion of field toxicology — a topic scheduled for discussion at the next hearing, a handful of presenters still delved into the issue, forcing Mr. Sederholm to stop or reschedule the testimony. Testimony pertaining to crumb-rubber infill was also disqualified after a representative of the high school said the material was not included in the project.

As the conversation broadened, University of Washington soccer coach Amy Griffin and parent Josh Thompson advocated vehemently for a grass field alternative, citing their superiority in competitive and professional soccer. Others, including seasonal homeowner Diana Conway, focused on the consequences of turf fields, including their high rates of injury and their propensity to overheat. 

“I like to compare synthetic turf to a bad relationship . . . It gets dangerously hot, it’s toxic to everyone around me, it’s unsustainable . . . and it’s really hard to get rid of,” Ms. Conway said. 

Islander Doug Ruskin aimed his complaints more directly at the high school, citing their refusal to join finance committee meetings and their lack of transparency with taxpayers. The high school has not publicly disclosed the project’s private funding source. 

“[This] review is our only chance to get the answers that have been sought,” Mr. Ruskin said. 

But the evening was not confined to criticisms. 

In a broader public comment period, proponents of the project, led by a panel of high school coaches, argued that a synthetic field was essential to a strong athletic program. Rebecca Nutton, varsity field hockey coach, voiced full-throated support for the project on behalf of her team. Joined by coaches from the school’s lacrosse and cross country programs, Ms. Nutton touched on her experience as a player and coach.     

“My personal experience in field hockey has been the thread that guided me in my life path so far and I know the same can be said for all young athletes,” she said. “[It] tends to be those who speak up, or are the loudest, are those with the complaints. So I want to speak tonight for those who are not aware of what could be lost if this project does not pass.”

High school soccer coach John Walsh, who noted the advantages of grass fields, focused on practicality in his remarks. 

“My thoughts are that while grass is king — I would love to have a grass field playable surface that we could have our kids and our whole community play on — it’s just not feasible,” he said. “The idea that we would be the one unicorn that’s able to actually make lasting playable grass surfaces, I think, is a bit of a pipe dream.”

At the close of the hearing, in a five-minute rebuttal from the high school allotted by Mr. Sederholm, assistant superintendent Richard Smith defended the project. 

“I became affiliated with this specific proposal because I also feel there is a need, and that need is to support the care of children . . . this project, the synthetic field in particular, is something that supports the care of children,” he said.

All further comments were deferred, as the hearing ran up against its three-hour limit. A formal discussion of toxicology and additional public testimony are on the agenda for March 4.

“We will be doing at least one more, if not two or three more sessions of this. We’re going to do whatever it takes,” Mr. Sederholm said.