Great Barrington — An effort to repeal the town’s recently passed plastic water bottle ban will get a full hearing when the matter is put before voters at a special town meeting next month.
The selectboard voted Monday 4–0 (Dan Bailly was absent) to hold the special town meeting Monday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m. at Monument Mountain Regional High School. The move comes after a petition was organized and filed to call for the special meeting to repeal the ban on the sale of single-use plastic water bottles approved at the annual town meeting in May. Click here to view the petition.
Town resident Laura Keefner, who had organized the petition, told the selectmen she would prefer a secret ballot over a simple show of hands, as is customary in most New England town meetings.
“A lot of people in this town know that, when you stand up and raise your hand ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for something, the person next to you is looking to see what you’re voting for,” Keefner said. “And I’ve had a lot of people who signed the petition ask me if it’s possible to have a secret ballot.”
Selectboard Chairman Steve Bannon told Keefner it would be possible to do so. The procedure for holding a secret ballot on a town meeting warrant item varies from town to town. In Great Barrington, if at least 20 voters at the town meeting request it, then a secret ballot can be held on a specific warrant item.
Keefner asked the selectmen for clarification on how much it would cost the town because, she said, “I’ve been taking real heat for this.” Bannon told her he did not have the figures in front of him but the cost depends on whether the town decides to advertise the meeting or simply send out postcards to voters. The board has opted to just send out the cards.
If the town had elected to advertise, then the cost of the meeting would have been approximately $4,000. Without the advertising, the bill will be closer to $2,500. The bulk of the cost can be attributed to about 15 hours of legal fees from town counsel, the town’s attorney who will attend the meeting. Click here to see a chart listing the expenses and sent to the Edge by town manager Jennifer Tabakin.
The approval of the plastic water bottle ban from residents at the annual town meeting followed a lengthy and impassioned appeal at the annual town meeting from three Monument Mountain Regional High School students.
They pointed to an array of research and data indicating the environmental problems associated with plastic in general, and the single-use water bottles in particular, because of the chronic infiltration of microplastic debris into the food chain.
Opposition to the ban sprang up even before the measure was passed by a margin of approximately 2–1. The new bylaw effectively bans the sale of single-use plastic noncarbonated water bottles of 1 liter or less in size within the town limits of Great Barrington. It will take effect May 1, 2019.
Great Barrington is the fourth town in the state and in the nation to pass such a law. After passing its ban on plastic water bottles, the town of Concord also enacted a bag ban in 2013 similar to the one in Great Barrington enacted.
Last year, a similar bottle initiative passed in nearby Sudbury and it even survived a subsequent repeal attempt initiated by the owner of a coffee house who insisted the water-bottle ban would hurt his bottom line and curtail his customers’ freedom of choice. The new law took effect this month.
The Great Barrington law was the brainchild of the environment committee of the Berkshire Women’s Action Group, which gathered the necessary signatures to put the item on the warrant.
Keefner, several commenters on the Edge and on social media, and some merchants objected to the ban. They argued instead for enhanced recycling efforts. Keefner acknowledged that she did not attend the annual town meeting this year, in part because she was not aware of the proposed bylaw until a couple of days before the meeting. She assumed it would not pass and was later shocked to learn that it had.