Harwich's long-delayed annual town meeting takes place this Saturday at 10 a.m. outdoors at football field behind the Monomoy Regional High School. Despite efforts to pare back articles to limit discussion and the length of the meeting, there's a lot of meat on the warrant. Voters will tackle not only the usual budget measures, but a critical zoning amendment and controversial petitions to ban the sale of single-use plastic bottles and incorporate climate change in town policy.
Protecting the historic stretch of Route 28 in West Harwich known as Captains' Row has long been a goal of neighborhood residents and preservationists. With the Cape Cod Commission approval of a District of Critical Planning Concern for the corridor, the town's next step is instituting specific zoning regulations to reflect the stronger protections allowed by the DCPC designation. Voters on Saturday will be asked to approve a West Harwich Special District to carry out those goals. With developers eyeing this area for possible commercial expansion, and the recent announcement that one of its centerpieces, the historic West Harwich Baptist Church, is for sale, putting these measures in place is a priority to ensure preservation of this area, a significant part of the town's heritage. We highly recommend approval.
We also recommend passage of the single-use plastic bottle ban. Wellfleet and Brewster have passed similar bans, and other Cape towns, including Chatham, are scheduled to address the measure in future town meetings. Recent revelations about the oil and plastic industries' manipulative promotion of recycling – knowing it was cheaper to make new plastic than to use recycled materials, and that much of the recycled material would end up in landfills or, worse yet, polluting the world's oceans – should push communities toward a ban on single-use and other plastic bottles and packaging. While we should still recycle, as it at least isolates material that won't degrade for centuries, we should all stop buying plastic bottles. If that takes a ban on their retail sale, so be it. It's just as easy, and environmentally friendly, to carry a reusable bottle and fill it at the many public water filling stations that are popping up everywhere.
We also endorse a petition to require that town officials consider the impact of climate change while formulating town policies. We support the petitioners' decision to do this in the form of a resolution rather than a bylaw; although it would not be enforceable, a positive vote would send a clear message to town officials that Harwich residents believe climate change is real, are concerned about it, and want their leaders to take it seriously.
We're also happy the selectmen and school officials reached a budget compromise, although it awaits ratification by the school committee Thursday. We have to say it was irresponsible of selectmen to nitpick over the school budget as the district works to keep children safe during the pandemic. If it takes additional money, so be it; is there anything more important than ensuring the safety of students?