The bylaw--which was approved at annual Town Meeting in 2013 and took effect Jan. 1, 2013--survived its first challenge this past spring. But resident Mike Benn believes he can succeed in sinking the bottle bylaw where others have failed.
"I believe that the bylaw that bans the sale of the most healthy beverage choice in Concord does not make sense," said Benn, the citizen behind the petitioner's article. "It does not solve any particular problems, yet it hurts residents, local merchants, and tourists."
Benn said he submitted the petition on behalf of Concordians who support local merchants, the town's recycling program and common sense.
"This is purely a grassroots effort by individual Concord citizens and the outcome will be determined based on fact and logic," said Benn. "There will not be any signs, automated phone calls, or anything that would require the raising of money. I will depend primarily on the word of mouth that originates with the small group of good friends that got together to collect signatures for the petition. I expect that the 150 folks who enthusiastically signed the petition will help to spread the word as well. When townspeople begin to see that the ban is unwise, and that this may be their last opportunity to correct it, they will mobilize themselves."
Benn chatted with Concord Patch about why he submitted the petition, and why he believes he can sink the bottle ban where other efforts have failed. The questions and answers are below.
Concord Patch: Why did you decide to submit your petition to repeal the bottled water bylaw?
Michael Benn: After the Board of Selectmen called a Special Town meeting for Dec. 4, a few friends and I discussed the idea of submitting an article to repeal the bylaw. I agreed to file it because I firmly believe that the ban of the sale of bottled water in Concord has done much more harm than good, and after nearly a full year after the implementation, the data will prove what we had predicted from the very beginning.
I am sensitive to the idea that the question of bottled water has been on every annual Town Meeting warrant since 2010, and that there may be some degree of “water-fatigue” in town. By the same token, the proponents of the ban brought the question to Town Meeting three years in a row before they were finally able to narrowly pass an article that would satisfy the Attorney-General. I believe that it is reasonable to re-visit the issue now that the effects of the ban can be demonstrated with empirical evidence.
CP: Have you had any contact with the Free the Water/Concord Residents for Consumer Choice group who have opposed the bylaw in the past? Do you plan to align with them at all? Why or why not?
MB: As far as I know, neither of these groups exits today (although I believe there is still an open social media page as well as a website (that is no longer being updated)). In any case, this petition is about individual Concord citizens correcting an error in our bylaws. I will not be aligning with any group, and I will not be organizing a new one.
Last spring, the public debate was often obscured by rhetoric about organizations and supposed outside interests. For the good of Concord, this bylaw needs to be scrutinized based solely on its supposed merits and costs.
CP: You were quoted on Boston.com as saying and that you’re not trying to protect the bottled water industry, but you are trying to protect common sense. Can you explain what you mean by that? Over the years we’ve also heard proponents of the bylaw use common sense as an argument against bottled water.
MB: Common sense dictates that a solution would correct the problem for which it was proposed. On the other hand, when the reaction to a problem is a symbolic gesture that does little more than create new complications, it is nonsense.
Banning a narrowly-defined product in one community has done nothing to reduce plastic in our waste stream. People who desire liquid refreshment have simply switched to sparkling water, flavored water, or the hundreds of soft-drink options. If they really need the healthy option of water, they could purchase it in extra-large plastic bottles, purchase single-serve bottles in surrounding towns, or even opt for home-delivery. The latter options are driving business away from our local merchants that work hard every day to make a living while generously giving-back to the community. It is a shame that 2013 has been a year in which the townspeople have impaired their ability to do business, for the sake of a purely symbolic gesture.
Concord has an incredibly efficient recycling program. It is very easy and convenient to put these bottles, along with all of the other plastic containers that we use every day, into our curbside bins. Also, as you walk through Concord center, wherever you find a trash bin, you will see a recycling bin right next to it. These are the kind of things that we do as a town that makes me proud to be a lifelong resident
CP: Have been affected in any way by the bottle bylaw? If yes, please explain how that factored into your decision to bring this petition before Town Meeting. If not, why did you pick this battle if it hasn’t affected you?
MB: I have absolutely no financial stake in the outcome of this article, and I do not drink bottled water. If I am thirsty, and stop at a convenience store, I will buy coffee or soda (of course I will buy water for my kids as it is without a doubt the healthiest drink option in any store (in any town other than Concord, MA).
This bylaw affects me in the same way if affects everyone in town. It is an affront to common sense that we would pick an extremely narrow class of retail product, and ban it in a single community as nothing more than a symbolic swipe at corporations (whose myriad of other bottled products have taken over the slots in the store’s refrigerators). I love the town of Concord and hope that together, we can put this embarrassment behind us once and for all, and focus on improving our already-excellent recycling results.
CP: How can you succeed where past efforts to block/repeal the bylaw have failed?
MB: While there have been three full-on efforts to pass the ban on the sale of single-serve drinking water in Concord, there has been only one campaign to repeal it. The repeal effort fell short for a couple reasons. First of all, the ban had only been in place for a few months, and had not encompassed a full spring/summer season in which the demand for water is at its annual peak. For this reason, the arguments for repeal had to rely on well thought-out projections rather than empirical data. In addition, because the campaign was organized, the pro-ban contingent focused much of its argument on fighting corporate profits which added obfuscation at the expense of reasoned discussion.
By Dec. 4, the ban will have been in place for almost a full year and solid evidence will be presented that will demonstrate that the bylaw has done damage to our local merchants and has done nothing to solve the problems that the ban-supporters presented at four Town Meetings since 2010.
In addition, because I am simply a Concord resident with no personal or financial stake in the outcome, there should be no senseless discussion of outside interests to complicate the debate. Both sides can offer facts and apply logic. The voters will be able to make a sound decision based on sound evidence.