Commission rejects soccer fields on Brewery Flats

Charlie Denison

Lewistown Soccer Club board member Brett Thackeray points to where the soccer fields and parking lot would be if the Lewistown City Commission approved their proposal Monday. Commission Chair Dave Byerly, center, asks questions. Commissioners moved to deny soccer fields on Brewery Flats at the meeting following the walk-through.

Photo by Charlie Denison

The hunt for new soccer fields in Lewistown continues.

In a unanimous decision, the Lewistown City Commissioners approved a motion to oppose putting soccer fields at Brewery Flats.

The decision was not easy for Commissioners, and they made that known at the meeting.

“It’s painful to say this,” Commissioner Beth Putnam said.

Nevertheless, a decision had to be made, and one of the groups was not going to be satisfied with the result, as proposing a soccer complex (two soccer fields and a parking lot) stirred up much resistance from neighbors, birders and environmental enthusiasts.

This conflict was enough for Putnam to make up her mind.

“The City of Lewistown residents and people surrounding Lewistown have been very vocal about not wanting soccer fields there,” Putnam said. “That’s why I want to oppose it.”

Commissioner Gayle Doney had a similar reaction.

“A lot of work has been done on both sides, and I appreciate both sides,” Doney said. “I understand soccer needs a place for kids to play. My kids played soccer. They were horrible at it, but luckily they were out of the house doing something. Also, I love Brewery Flats, and I think it is a failed place for soccer fields. I just don’t think it’s workable.”

Commissioner Patty Turk also had reservations.

“I feel Brewery Flats can’t be replaced,” Turk said, “and I feel there is a better place for the soccer club. There is a 27-acre space I walked with Lewistown Soccer Club Jeff Friesen we are looking into.”

Commissioners offered sympathy to the LSC and City Commission Chair Dave Byerly even took accountability for what’s transpired since last summer, when the Commission told the LSC to go ahead and start fundraising with the Brewery Flats site in mind for soccer fields during a Committee of the Whole session.

“If there is any blame, it belongs to the chair of the commission,” Byerly said. “The soccer people acted in good faith. If I could do it all over again, I would have asked more questions and would have made sure all the interested parties were on board…because they weren’t.”

At Monday’s meeting, Byerly and the commissioners said they now felt confident they’d heard from all interested parties. Before making their decision, members of the LSA, families involved in the soccer program, neighbors of Brewery Flats, biologists, ecologists and local residents with opinions one way or the other shared their thoughts during a nearly two-hour public comment session. Both sides also had an opportunity to make a 10-minute presentation.

Despite disagreements, both sides spoke amicably, which Commissioner Rick Poss found comforting.

“I appreciate the civility,” he said. “We are way ahead of Washington, D.C.”

This comment received applause from the crowd, breaking some tension.

“But I must say it’s really difficult to make decisions like this,” Poss said. “My vote is going to be ‘no’ as well.”

For Poss, one of the reasons there was such an outcry against soccer fields at Brewery Flats was the timing.

“We probably would have gotten the soccer fields approved if we did this five or six years ago, right when the Brewery Flats reclamation got started,” Poss said. “Because we didn’t do it then, this turned into something else. Back then, when the reclamation happened, some kids doing it from MSU may have come up with an idea that this could be a good place for soccer fields, but it just didn’t take off, so that’s where we are at and it’s water under the bridge. I can tell you this commission wants you to have a soccer field. We’ve just got to find one.”

Hewitt said she was torn, as well, sharing with those in attendance that it was a tough call and she hopes another site can be found. She even did some verbal brainstorming.

“I’ve been looking at the Berg Lumber property wondering if there is any way to integrate soccer fields on that property,” she said. “I’m torn. I don’t know.”

Commissioner Frank Gremaux was not present at the meeting, but he submitted a letter sharing that he was also opposed to soccer fields on the site.

Lastly, Byerly shared additional thoughts.

“I hope out of this we can come up with two things: we find a home for soccer and we follow through to finish the job at Brewery Flats,” Byerly said.

By “finish the job,” Byerly refers to research that was done on the site during the process showing much of the property is still contaminated and can use further rehabilitation. Much discussion took place at the meeting regarding this, and – soccer fields or no soccer fields – people were on board for improvements.

Immediately following the decision, civility continued, Jeff Friesen said the LSC was “not bitter” and will “continue to look at options.”

Lance Loving, a representative opposing soccer at Brewery Flats, said he’d be happy to help with the site, as did Al Eggers, who also did not support the proposal.

“It’s time to come together,” Eggers said.



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