Williamstown OKs bans on plastic bags, polystyrene


WILLIAMSTOWN>> Voters on Tuesday approved bans on plastic bags and polystyrene food containers, two items that generated the most discussion during the three-hour annual town meeting.

The meeting drew 324 of the town's 4,584 registered voters for a turnout of 7 percent.

Selectman Hugh Daley made two separate motions on the floor to refer to committee both warrant articles, which appeared by citizen petition.

But after nearly an hour of discussion, voters approved Article 41, which called for a ban of singe-use plastic bags and a 10 cent fee for every bag retailers provide customers. The vote was 205-81.

Voters then passed Article 42, which called for a polystyrene ban, by voice vote.

Both bans will take effect in six months.

Selectmen ultimately voted 3-2 for the bag bylaw, with Daley and Andrew Hogeland voting against.

Brad Verter, a resident who spearheaded both campaigns, proposed several amendments to each article including definition changes and the removal of criminal prosecution of violations. He encouraged residents to vote on the bylaws that night and pointed to an "extraordinary" outreach campaign, consisting of open meetings and a public access television special.

He at one point held up a picture of plastic bag litter near his home that he said his son had taken.

"We would set a standard for the entire region," Verter said, adding that individuals have contacted him about a ban in their own town.

But Daley and Hogeland argued that both bylaws should be referred back to Selectmen.

"We should demand that our bylaws are written in open and posted meetings with the opportunity for participation from all citizens," Daley said.

Amy Bryan, owner of Amy's Cottage on Water Street, called the fines — $50 for a second offense, $100 for a third — harsh, and said she supported the bylaws being sent to committee.

"I fully support getting rid of plastic, but the law as written doesn't support small businesses in town," Bryan said.

But residents argued that the issue should be brought to a vote.

"Just because this is a grassroots effort, as opposed to something from the Planning Board, doesn't mean it's any less valid," said Anne O'Connor, who was sworn in for her first term as selectwoman following Tuesday's meeting.

Several other residents spoke in favor of the bylaws, noting devastating long-term environmental effects and a need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

"I think Williamstown residents are smart enough to vote now and not put it off," said Thomas Hyde, after reading a letter on behalf of the Sierra Club of Massachusetts.

Selectmen Chairman Ronald Turbin, who had previously said he was in favor of both bylaws being sent back to committee, told attendees he had changed his mind.

"This is a democratic process and it's up to the town to make a determination," he said.

Two attendees spoke of a concern about adopting both bylaws that night, noting the handful of amendments being made on the floor.

But Daley's motion to refer the plastic bag ban to committee was defeated 166-128, and the polystyrene ban, 176-94.

"Williamstown did itself proud tonight," Verter said in an e-mail blast following Tuesday's meeting. "We set a new standard, and what we accomplished here will have a significance far beyond the boundaries of the town."

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979.


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