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Town Great Barrington voters sustain plastic water bottle ban, but reject purchase of controversial property

The move to repeal the water bottle ban was so controversial that the special town meeting attracted upwards of 100 more residents than had attended the Annual Town Meeting on May 7.

Editor’s note: This article has been revised to include town counsel’s estimate of the total legal costs of defending the appeal to the ZBA ruling on 11 Roger Road.

Great Barrington — Great Barrington cemented its reputation as a progressive town as residents voted resoundingly tonight (August 6) at a special town meeting to keep a ban enacted this spring on single-use plastic water bottles.

The vote to preserve the ban passed by almost 100 votes 297-199. The article to repeal had been presented earlier as a petition for a special town meeting by resident Laura Keefner after the original ban passed at the annual town meeting in May.

Laura Keefner, opponent of the bottle ban, addressing the special town meeting. Photo: David Scribner

The move to repeal the water bottle ban was so controversial that the special town meeting attracted upwards of 100 more residents than had attended the Annual town Meeting on May 7 where it was first passed.

Town Clerk Marie Ryan said 503 voting residents attended the meeting. The Monument Mountain Regional High School auditorium was packed, not only with Great Barrington residents but with residents from other towns who had a rooting interest in the matter.

After the motion was introduced, a vigorous debate ensued along the lines of the same arguments that have been heard in the past: proponents of the repeal reiterated their desire for personal freedom, their concern about its effect on merchants, their desire for greater recycling efforts and what they say is a lack of planning regarding its ramifications.

See video below of the discussion of the proposed repeal of the single-use plastic water bottle ban:

Proponents argued that there is a ready replacement available in the form of reusable water bottles, that discarded plastic is harming the environment and that Great Barrington should show some leadership, as Concord and Sudbury — the two other Massachusetts towns that have bans — did.

More than twice the number of residents wanting to preserve the ban spoke compared to those who wanted to repeal. A motion passed that called for a secret ballot rather than a show of hands. The motion to repeal then seemed to lose steam.

Another controversial measure that would have allowed the town to purchase 11 Roger Road failed. In order to put an end to a longstanding and expensive zoning dispute with business owner Gary J. O’Brien, the town had proposed to purchase 11 Roger Road for $298,000.

Town Counsel David Doneski. Photo: David Scribner

Town Counsel David Doneski said the litigation on the dispute (the town is suing O’Brien, who is also suing the Zoning Board of Appeals, and resident Roger Belanger is suing the ZBA) could drag on for another year, costing the town even more than the $30,000 it has already spent trying to enforce the most recent cease-and-desist order issued by code enforcement officer Edwin May. Doneski’s law firm has estimated that the legal bills to defend the appeal to the ZBA ruling will be up to $100,000.

The motion to purchase 11 Roger Road failed when it did not receive the required two-thirds majority. The result was 199 in favor, 149 opposed.

Two other articles passed with minimal dissent:

  • A motion to borrow or transfer $65,000 to complete repairs on the town transfer station garage facility passed 304-79.
  • A motion authorizing the use of $20,000 in Community Preservation Funds to replace the chimneys on Town Hall passed by acclamation.
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