Selectmen Advance Bottle Dilemma

Board agrees on a strategy to cut down on plastic containers

The Concord selectmen moved the bottle ban dilemmna down the field a bit at their Monday meeting by agreeing to curb the amount of plastic bottles that are sold.

The board wanted to honor the wishes of Town Meeting that approved an article that banned the sale of plastic water bottles as of Jan. 1, 2011. But the article was deemed unenforceable.

The town sent the article to the attorney general's office since all bylaws must be approved by the state authority before they become local laws. The AG's office declined to rule on the measure since it felt that the language of the article was not a bylaw. It had no civil or crimimal consequences for violating it. It was viewed as more symbolic than actionable.

But rather than letting the matter drop, and also not wanting to drag it out for another year, the selectmen compromised and called for a strategy to push the idea of cutting down on the use of plastic bottles voluntarily.

The article passed by 179 votes at the spring Town Meeting.

"Most people are not willing to ban the sale of plastic water bottles," said board Chairman Jeff Wieand.

"It isn't a bylaw," said Selectman Greg Howes. "We are not going to enforce it. It is not a prudent approach."

Selectman Carmin Reiss agreed. "It is beyond our authority," she said.

"What do we do now? asked Wieand.

He said the League of Women Voters asked the board to form a committee to study the matter. But Wieand said just forming a committee would not "solve this mess."

"We have to give it a charge," he said. "Every step of any ban has to be supported by town counsel." Wieand said town counsel had written a multi-page opinion that poked holes in the ban as it was presented to Town Meeting.

Wieand said the board ought to consider doing nothing and letting the ban die out.

"We don't do anything; we haven't admitted defeat," he said. "But there would be nothing for the media to talk about." Concord's Town Meeting ban caught national attention.

"The best outcome would be if the issue didn't come up again," said Wieand.

But board member Stanly Black said it "wouldn't be difficult to develop a charge" for a new study committee.

"The formation of a committee doesn't necessarily lead to an article," said Black. "I think we can make this work."

The selectmen praised the efforts and the sentiment of petitioner Jean Hill who brought the article to the town for a vote, even though it is not actionable.

Howes said the town should "start with reducing plastic waste in Concord with measurable goals." He said there are already viable organizations doing that, such as Concord CAN and the Public Works Department's recycling coordinator.

"Let's leverage what we have in place," said Howes.

Reiss liked the idea. "We can focus on a broader goal than the ban," she said, "and not usurp a citizen's right to petition Town Meeting."

"We don't have to work with Jean Hill but we can respond to the vote," said Howes. "We can work with the citizens of Concord."

Reiss proposed a "joint initiative" among stakeholders.

"It would be a great thing," she said.



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