Manchester Select Board eyes plastic bag ban

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MANCHESTER — The Select Board stopped short of embracing a town ban on single-use plastic bags on Tuesday night, but showed interest in prompting the Legislature to pass a state-wide ban.

Board members asked Carl Bucholt, representing the local environmental advocacy group Earth Matters, to work with town manager John O'Keefe in crafting a resolution from the board to both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Phil Scott calling for a statewide single-use plastic bag ban.

The board plans to take up that resolution at its next meeting, on Sept. 25.

Earth Matters has been calling for a single-use bag ban, mirroring one enacted in Brattleboro in July. Several communities in nearby Berkshire County, Mass., have already banned single-use bags.

In a presentation to the board, Bucholt laid out the environmental case for banning single-use plastic bags: They don't biodegrade, they're harmful to birds and marine animals and they're difficult to recycle, he said.

And many local stores say they're already living without them, or willing to do so, he added.

That's when board vice-chair Wayne Bell, who was running proceedings in the absence of chair Ivan C. Beattie, asked Bucholt about a pair of bills before the Legislature calling for state-wide single-use bag bans — H.105 and H.88 — and whether local lawmakers could help support those statewide efforts instead of duplicating the effort at the local level, and taking on the responsibility of enforcement.

A statewide ban "seems more powerful than one town" banning single-use plastic bags, Bell said.

Manchester resident Sylvia Jolivette asked why the proposal stops at plastic bags. "I don't see the point at stopping with bags — it should be all plastics," she said.

Earth Matters member Theo Talcott said the group settled on single-use bags because it was confident it could win support for that measure. The greater challenge, he said, is changing the culture away from single-use plastic.

Manchester Elementary-Middle School teacher Ann Faris, who leads the school's recycling team, said her young students are learning about environmental stewardship through their roles in promoting recycling and composting at MEMS. "I think it would be very powerful if the Select Board stood behind the kids" and enacted a ban, she said.

In other business, the board approved a state grant application seeking funds for a market analysis of mixed use development including housing in the downtown district, and the formation of a working group to work on the task.

Town planning and zoning director Janet Hurley and planning commission vice-chair Todd Nebraska told the board that the study is the logical next step following the NEDS study, the town plan and the revision of the land use ordinance and map in attempting to promote mixed use development downtown — buildings that include commercial and residential uses. The analysis would tell the town and potential developers what it would take for a project to "pencil out" with competitive rents that would allow young professionals to move here, and identify parcels where such a development would work, Hurley said.

"The question is can be be a financially viable option — housing that isn't at the high end of the market," Hurley said.

Before the board started its meeting, it held a moment of silence for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Tuesday marked the 17th anniversary of those attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.


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