HANSON — The Board of Selectmen has closed the warrants for the Monday, May 6 special and annual Town Meetings, including a proposed ban on plastic shopping bags and polystyrene beverage cups.
The bans, however, may be passed over at Town Meeting if there is evidence that residents are not ready for it. Selectmen will be meeting with the Board of Health to discuss the process of educating the public on, and implementing any ban, and Selectmen Matt Dyer and Wes Blauss plan to hold a public informational meeting on the proposal ahead of Town Meeting. Dyer said he would like to see the ban in effect by July 2020.
“There’s an appreciable amount of articles, both in the special and the annual that are financial — and we’re still working through the budget …and we’re going to hone down what we can do,” Town Administrator Michael McCue, told the board at it’s Tuesday, March 12 meeting. “We can’t afford all the requests, so we’ll go back and give you an idea of where we are in terms of what’s affordable.”
The warrant review will continue at the Selectmen’s Tuesday, March 26 meeting and McCue said he and Town Accountant Todd Hassett will also be meeting with their Whitman counterparts as well as school officials on that budget.
An article seeking a $500 stipend for employees at the Treasurer/Collector’s Office who have recently earned a certification, similar to other Town Hall staff receive, was not yet on the warrant, McCue said, noting it must be discussed further with the union. He does intend to include it on the warrant, however.
Dyer said he has discussed the Board of Health’s concerns about Selectmen’s work on the plastic bag ban with Health Chairman Arlene Dias.
“They were concerned we were putting the cart before the horse in terms of putting the bylaw in place and then educating and transitioning to plastic bag-less stores,” Dyer said, suggesting a public forum be held in early April. “I didn’t think it would hurt to have a hearing this spring to kind of see where the public is with it and — if there is strong opposition implementing a by law this spring — maybe revisiting it in the fall.”
Dias, for her part, expressed concern to the Board of Selectmen that sponsoring the warrant article was the purview of her board.
“I don’t have a problem with the ban,” Dias said. “I would like for us to take time to really look at it, come up with a good policy, and implement it. Not backwards.”
She also asked if the town has funding to cover the person who will need to handle the implementation, public education and enforcement involved. The last time Dias met with Selectmen on the issue a couple of months ago, she said they were in agreement to meet jointly to plan and conduct community forums.
“That didn’t happen and now you’re talking about implementing a ban in a couple of months,” Dias said.
Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell agreed, as did Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett, who stressed it was never the intention to step on any other board’s feet.
“We have people that were particularly impassioned about it,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “Maybe we just didn’t put two and two together that we should be working through you.”
She said the issue does need to be looked at, and said she was concerned with the timeline for a spring Town Meeting.
“If we can do the public forum and feel as though people’s concerns have been voiced and answered … we’ve got a place-holder [article],” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Where major retail chains such as Shaw’s are concerned, McCue said there are “fall back positions” in place for the possibility of such bans.
“It’s really the smaller ones that you’d really want to reach out to and give them considerations,” McCue said. “It’s a path that’s already been blazed.”
Dyer has already begun talking to business about the issue, as well.
“Everyone, for the most part, has said, ‘We knew it was coming and it’s just a matter of time before it becomes a state law,’ so there wasn’t any big push-back,” he said. “Let’s have a hearing … and if the town isn’t ready for it, I’m not going to force it on them, by any means.”
Green Hanson members attending the meeting also offered their view. Member Marianne DiMascio said the website massgreen.org can supply a lot of the information Selectmen were discussing.
“It may sound daunting that there’s so much to go over, but they have some really good resources,” she said.
Marah Burt, a WHRHS student, also attended the meeting to voice her support for the ban.
“Plastic bags are something that concerns me about the town,” she said.
Another resident said education is really important because of the size of the issue and the time involved in the decomposition process of plastics, especially in view of the fact that the United States produces more than 100 billion plastic bags per year.
“It takes a couple of hundred years for those to break down, and even that is not even the final process,” he said. “It then takes, literally forever, because these micro bits of plastic get into everything, including our bodies.”