Great Barrington voters uphold ban on small water bottles

GREAT BARRINGTON — At a packed and raucous special town meeting Monday, voters upheld a ban on sales of single-use plastic water bottles, but thwarted the town's efforts to purchase land owned by a trucking company as a way to resolve a potentially costly legal dispute.

In a 296 to 199 secret ballot vote, residents voted to keep the ban, passed at the annual town meeting in May, on the sale of small plastic bottles that contain still water, sized 1 liter or less. A local environmental group led the charge toward what is the first such ban in Berkshire County — and the fourth in the U.S. — citing a spiraling plastic waste crisis amid low recycling rates, as well as concerns about the safety of bottled water.

The ban was to begin May 1, with an exemption in case of emergencies, and a plan by the group to install water refill stations around town.

Opponents, led by town resident Laura Keefner, said the move be a financial hit to local businesses. Others cited another problem: rusty water in Housatonic that has residents shopping for water.

"I choose not to drink the water that comes out of my tap," said Douglas Stephenson. "We as a society should not be limiting people's rights."

The line to the microphone backed up to the door as speakers acknowledged the global plastic crisis, and the millions of plastic bottles that are tossed every year in town. Some said, however, that the ban would send people to other towns for the little bottles, and kill a good source of fundraising for groups such as the Boy Scouts.

"Banning something does not make it go away," Keefner said.

Others, speaking to the roughly 500 people who packed the Monument Mountain Regional High School auditorium, said a ban here wouldn't put a dent in a global problem. But some said it had to start somewhere.

"I'm proud to be leading rather than following," said Ben Barrett. "We are naive about the term 'away'... we think we just throw something away."

"We increasingly need to pressure bottling companies," said Wendy Kleinman. "We need to stop the damage."

Dana Dapolito said that banning plastics is growing into a worldwide movement. She said she'd rather not wait to have a ban imposed on her by the government.

"I'd rather do it myself," she said.

Purchase foiled

In a secret ballot vote requiring a two-thirds majority, residents killed the town's plan to purchase an 8-acre parcel on Roger Road owned by Gary and Kristen O'Brien, which town officials said would "stop the clock on costs" of litigation by both neighbors and the O'Brien's in an escalating neighborhood conflict over noise from their company, Irish Trucking.

The town was proposing to buy the land for $298,000 after the O'Brien's appealed a Zoning Board of Appeals decision in land court that applied conditions to the operation of its equipment. But voters said they were worried about environmental problems on the property, valued by the town at $255,300, which has been used by trucking firms since 1929 and sits in what is now a residential area.

Some said the deal just didn't sit right with them, given that the O'Briens hadn't obeyed cease and desist orders issued by the town over the years, and that the town hadn't enforced them.

Town attorney David Doneski said the litigation could be lengthy. Zoning Board of Appeals member Michael Wise said the purchase was the most "sensible" route, and that it is "expensive to litigate over honor."

But voters apparently did not agree.

Blue Hill Road resident Michael Andelman said the "neighbors will continue to litigate against the town."

And Kristen O'Brien told The Eagle after the meeting that she and her husband were "off to land court," and are "open to other offers."

Voters also approved borrowing $65,000 for repairs to the town's transfer station garage, and to use $20,000 in Community Preservation Act money for work to the Town Hall roof.

Heather Bellow can be reached at or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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