Tewksbury Bags Debate on Repeal of Plastic Ban; Billboards Approved
TEWKSBURY -- Bags and billboards.
Turnout was noticeably lower for the second night of Annual Town Meeting Wednesday night. Among the issues discussed was an article to repeal the town’s plastic bag ban, which went into effect April 1.
After about 45 minutes of debate, Town Meeting voted to indefinitely postpone the article, ensuring the plastic bag ban would remain in place.
Later, Town Meeting approved an amended article allowing for billboards.
In October, Town Meeting voted to approve a plastic bag ban which would prevent grocery stores and other retail stores from using single-use plastic bag bans and instead offering recyclable or reusable bags.
Resident Joe Dunn decided to bring the article to repeal the ban to Town Meeting in January. Rather than ban the bags, the town should focus on educating residents about the proper way to dispose of the plastic bags, Dunn said.
He argued that repealing the ban would allow customers to have a choice in what they use.
Those in support of the repeal argued that paper bags, which are now being used instead of plastic bags, were just as harmful to the environment because of their production.
Resident Kenneth Michaud cited a study in Denmark that questioned whether cloth bags were a good solution. The study, Michaud said, found that cloth bags had to be used 20,000 times to be less harmful than plastic bag.
He suggested alternatives to the ban, such as raising littering fines, and called the ban a “top down mandate” and said the town was “micromanaging” business and residents.
The owner of a small business in town said that the ban had forced her business to absorb the cost of providing alternative bags for customers.
Speaking in support of keeping the ban, Town Manager Richard Montuori said that plastic bags are a major contributor of the town’s contamination problem. He said that Tewksbury’s contamination rate prompted the company that provides curbside recycling collection to fine the town.
Those in support of keeping the ban said single-use plastic bags were harmful to the environment as they do not biodegrade easily and often wind up in water ways and other natural areas.
“These bags can take up to 1,000 years to decompose,” said resident Alexandra Lowder.
She recalled participating in town cleanup days where plastic bags were common pieces of litter cleared from areas in town.
Resident Mark Minnucci said that repealing the ban would run counter to what Tewksbury as a community is about.
“The idea that our children are going to be standing in beautiful new schools, nice athletic fields filled with plastic bags is incongruous with what we’re doing,” he said.
Minnucci, who regularly runs through town, said he usually sees beer cans, syringes and plastic bags lying on the ground. He noted that he does not see reusable or paper bags littering the ground.
An article to allow billboards and electronic signs along I-93 and I-495 also prompted lengthy debate.
The article was initially brought to Town Meeting last October when it failed due to concerns that the signs would be allowed on neighborhood streets. The Board of Selectmen brought the article back to Annual Town Meeting because of the potential revenue. Under the article, the signs would be kept to heavy industrial and office/research zoning districts.
In a previous interview Montuori told The Sun, that some towns bring in $50,000 to $100,000 from billboards.
Some residents who spoke against the article worried about the number of signs that could go up and the town’s ability to control their content.
Assistant Town Manager Steven Sadwick said that while freedom of speech is a factor in the ability to control content but said that the state permitting process and the town’s process would act as dual protection.
Echoing a concern from October Town Meeting when the article failed, several residents worried about the signs’ proximity to residents and whether the signs would be visible from streets neighboring the highway.
One resident who lives next to I-93, said he was worried about the sign going up right across from his door.
As a solution to those concerns, one resident suggested an amendment to prevent the signs from being placed within 1,000 feet of a residential or multi-family district. The amendment narrowed the permitted zoning area but Town Meeting passed the amendment.
Those in support of the article emphasized the potential revenue that the signs would generate.
One resident reminded Town Meeting that the town had recently passed an override for a new elementary school, administrative offices and an athletic field.
“I think we need some money in town,” one resident said. “Let’s get real here.”
Resident Jerry Selissen called the article an opportunity. He reminded those gathered that nonprofits are permitted five hours per month to post their events and announcements on the signs.
At the close of debate, Town Meeting passed the article as amended, allowing billboards to go up in specific zones along the highways.