Plastic Bottle Ban, Climate Change Petitions Likely To Draw Voters Saturday

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Town Meeting

Single-use plastic bottles. PIXABAY

Annual Town Meeting Starts At 10 a.m. At Monomoy High Field

HARWICH — Three petitioned articles focusing on the environment are likely to generate debate when voters gather on Saturday morning to act on the annual town meeting warrant.

The annual town meeting was rescheduled from last spring to Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. and moved outside to the stadium field at Monomoy Regional High School because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The warrant has been trimmed with an eye on holding off on some controversial articles until next May’s legislative session in hopes of minimizing debate and expediting town meeting because of the pandemic.

But petitioned articles must be acted upon. Three of the five petitioned articles focus on hot-button environmental issues: single-use plastic water bottle bans and climate change. With the finance committee and selectmen differing in their recommendations, the articles are expected to draw considerable debate.

The finance committee is recommending indefinite postponement of all three articles. Selectmen have endorsed one of the articles and have not yet taken a position on the other two.

There are two single-use plastic bottle ban petitions; one seeks to make it unlawful to sell non-carbonated, unflavored drinking water in plastic containers of less than one gallon in town. Selectmen supported the measure on a 3-2 vote. The other article seeks to rescind the bylaw approved a year ago banning the town from procuring and dispensing single-use plastic bottles containing any beverages on municipal property. Selectmen have yet to take a position on that article, but the finance committee recommended indefinite postponement 4-3.

The ban on the sale of single-use plastic bottles would be effective in September 2021.

“We on Cape Cod are here because of the environment,” petition proponent Patrick Otton told selectmen recently. “That’s why you and I are here.”

He said plastic bottles are used for 30 seconds and then remain in the environment for a thousand years. The earth is covered in plastic, he said, which has a cost to personal health and the environment.

“People are saying no to plastic,” Otton said.

The finance committee is recommending indefinite postponement of the petition because the petitioners did not provide enough information on the potential cost to retailers in the town or the cost to the town for education and research.

“This is a state, national and world issue and to start with a bylaw in Harwich instead of looking at manufacturers or changes to the national agenda is not the way to make positive change,” the committees wrote in its recommendation.

The other petitioned article related to plastic bottles seeks to rescind the bylaw approved last year banning the town from procurement and dispensing them on town property. The petition was filed by former selectman Jannell Winston Brown, who called the approved bylaw discriminatory and financially inhibitive to various non-profit organizations that use town property, such as the Monomoy Little League, Monomoy Booster Club and the Cape Cod Baseball League, which have concession stands to raise funds. She told selectmen the use of cardboard containers is more expensive and would result in less money being raised.

“Trash is not a plastic issue, it’s a human behavior issue,” Brown on social media.

Selectmen have not taken any action on Brown's petition. The finance committee voted 4-3 for indefinite postponement, honoring the wishes of the 2019 annual town meeting. The committee also said the petitioner should make a positive motion and let town meeting resolve the issue.

The climate change article was submitted as a bylaw, but Harwich Climate Change Action Network member Robin Lord has informed selectmen it will be presented as a resolution, not a bylaw.

The resolution would seek a commitment from the town to support a policy of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for town operations at the earliest time it is technically and economically feasible.

“Cape Cod, as a peninsula, is especially vulnerable to climate change... eroding beaches, the decline in our fishing industry and damage to low-lying roadways and properties are just a few of the detrimental impacts we are already experiencing. We need to take action at the local level to do all we can to prevent or lessen these impacts,” Deborah Ennis, chair of Harwich’s Climate Action Network, wrote in a press release.

“There is no dollar amount attached to this petition, At this point in time we are only asking the town to adopt a policy and work towards implementing it wherever it’s affordable and practical. So this won’t in any way add to the town budget this year. And, in fact, it may save the town considerably in the future,” added Mickey Kerns, author of the petition.

The finance committee voted unanimously for indefinite postponement of the article as a bylaw because cost estimates to implement it have not been developed and the timetable to implement it is unknown. But the committee supported the concept in the form of a resolution. Selectmen voted to make a recommendation at town meeting.

The meeting is scheduled to begin on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the stadium field at Monomoy Regional High School. Rain date is Sunday, Sept.27 at 1 p.m.