HARWICH — The more than 300 voters who turned out for the annual town meeting on Saturday spoke in strong support of protecting the environment, putting in place a ban on the sale of commercial single-use plastic water bottles and approving a resolution supporting the adoption of a town policy on climate change.
Resident Patrick Otton put forward the petitioned article seeking to create a bylaw making it unlawful to sell non-carbonated, unflavored drinking water in single-use plastic bottles of less than one gallon. Last year town meeting approved a ban on procuring and dispensing single-use plastic bottles on town property.
Otton said people did not grow up using plastic bottles and instead used safe, credible alternatives.
The bottles break down into micro-plastics when left in the environment for long periods of time, he said, calling the petition “a vote about human and environmental health.” He defined micro-plastics “as foreign toxic substances and not something our bodies are accustomed to deal with.”
He called the recycling of plastics a hoax invented by oil and corporate companies, asserting it is cheaper for those companies to make new bottles than it is to us recycled materials. Buying a water bottle costs 9,000 times more than using tap water, he said.
“You’d get 1,000 gallons of Harwich town water for the price of buying a bottle of water,” Otton said, adding “there’s no 'away' when you throw something away.”
Finance Committee Chairman Dana DeCosta questioned using a petitioned article, requiring only 10 signatures, in town meeting to address a national problem. He said there was no information provided with the proposal and no input from town boards.
“If the town did it that way it likely would get voted down,” DeCosta said. “It’s a big change for the town. We wish they had done a resolution.”
Several towns on the Cape have approved similar bylaws, and Falmouth also banned the sale of nip bottles.
Jannell Brown said she is an environmentalist but she opposed the bylaw. She said all of the plastic containers for carbonated beverages are made of the same plastic and questioned why water is being singled out.
“We want people to drink water,” Brown said.
Selectman Donald Howell said there is no recycling market for plastic. “Don’t leave the next generation awash in plastic,” Howell said.
Micro-plastics get into the food chain, the oceans and groundwater, said Judith Underwood, a water commissioner. She urged support for the bylaw, pointing out Harwich has award-winning water, “the best in the state.”
There was discussion about the town conducting more study before adopting the bylaw. Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine said study and education should come first to give positive reasons for change.
John Wheeler call the question and the assembly agreed to end debate. Voters then approved the bylaw with a voice vote.
Brown filed the petitioned article to have the single-use plastic beverage bottle bylaw that was approved last year rescinded. She said there was no need for that bylaw to exist anymore, and that it has had an adverse impact on non-profit groups which sold such beverages at events as a means of raising funds.
But Selectman Ed McManus said to rescind the bylaw would be misguided because it builds upon the bylaw just passed. Otton agreed, stating last year’s bylaw approval is a little broader than the single-use plastic water bottles bylaw just approved. Voters defeated the effort to rescind the bylaw approved last year.
Later in the meeting, Brown requested reconsideration of the newly approved bylaw on the commercial single-use plastic water ban. She said she planned to amend the article to remove water from the bylaw and replace it with alcohol, changing the measure to a ban on nip bottles.
Moderator Michael Ford said voters had not been advised of the change and it goes beyond the scope of the article. Approval of a motion to reconsider requires a four-fifths super-majority, and it failed.
The petitioned article to have a climate change policy bylaw adopted was filed by the Harwich Climate Change Action Network. Deborah Ennis the article was being presented as a resolution instead of a bylaw.
“I’m here because I care about the fragile environment and the effects of climate change,” Ennis said.
Climate change, including the fires on the West Coast, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, three tornadoes in Harwich and the breaking up of ice sheets in Antarctica is disrupting life as we used to know it, she said, displacing people, raising food prices and creating crop failure.
Steps need to be taken to get things going in the right direction and show leaders people are concerned about climate issues, she said. Fourteen towns on the Cape are addressing similar measures, asking their leaders to do what is economically and technically feasible to address climate change, she said.
“We have to leave a better environment, a clean and beautiful Cape Cod for our children and grandchildren,” Ennis said.
“I speak now not for myself, I’m a senior, but for future generations. We can’t let them down,” said Roseanne Shapiro. “We must be sure this town is as vital to them as they raise families as it is now.”
“I’ve been re-mapped into a flood zone,” West Harwich resident Sebastian Mudry said. “I abut 200 acres plus of the Bell’s Neck conservation area and now I’m in a flood zone that did not exist when I bought my property. We’re in a crisis, global burning. I didn’t have to mow my lawn three times this summer. That’s absurd.”
Moderator Michael Ford said the motion requests selectmen to convene a public forum to discuss the resolution and whether a bylaw is necessary to implement provisions consistent with the measure. Voters approved the resolution.