Select Board OKs resolution favoring bag ban

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MANCHESTER — The Select Board approved a resolution Tuesday calling for a statewide ban on thin film single-use plastic shopping bags, after getting a pep talk about the problems posed by those bags from some concerned young residents.

A group of fifth-grade students from Manchester Elementary-Middle School attended the meeting, and presented letters to the Select Board outlining the environmental hazards posed by single-use bags.

They said bags leach chemicals into the environment, pose hazards to fish and wildlife, and shed plastic particles that wind up in the food chain. The bags are made of fossil fuels, don't biodegrade and are difficult to recycle, they said.

Their letters included links to the research they conducted to learn about the problem.

Select Board members said they were impressed by the effort. And though they didn't change course and pursue a ban instead of a resolution, they were motivated to take their effort a few steps beyond the initial vision they suggested two weeks ago.

In addition to sending the resolution to the clerks of the state House and Senate and Gov. Phil Scott's administration, they agreed to offer it to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns as a template for other towns to use.

And they discussed lobbying other towns in Bennington County, as well as the state's other economic hubs, to follow suit.

"This is a first step for us," board chair Ivan C. Beattie told the audience. "Its nice to hear how passionate you are about this ... you had an impact," he said.

The Manchester environmental advocacy group Earth Matters had proposed an ordinance at the board's previous meeting, focusing on thin film single-use plastic bags (with some exemptions). Brattleboro enacted a similar a ban in July, and several communities in Berkshire County, Mass., have instituted bans as well. And town planning and zoning director Janet Hurley said the Conservation Commission passed a motion supporting a ban, though it also supported a resolution as well.

"I personally think plastic bags are a serious issue," Beattie said. But he told the audience that he was wary of unintended consequences as well, and said he's not yet ready to take action on an ordinance that would leave Manchester "on an island" to enact and enforce a ban itself.

"I'm open to continuing down this path," he said. "I can't enact an ordinance on a suspicion."

Board vice chair Wayne Bell said educating consumers to change their behavior and use reusable cloth or textile bags instead of single-use plastics is another way to address the problem.

"The most effective tool is sitting right here, and it's education," he said, referring to the students in the audience.

While some grown-ups spoke on behalf of a ban as well, the MEMS students were the center of attention, and their efforts were cited by the adults who called for a ban rather than a non-binding resolution. The town should take a leadership role and encourage its neighbors to do the same, rather than wait for Montpelier to act, they said.

Ann Faris, a teacher at MEMS who leads the school's recycling team, said the students researched and wrote the letters on their own. "They did an amazing amount of preparation. I feel on their behalf we need to take strong action," she said.

Manchester resident Sylvia Jolivette, a former teacher at MEMS and regular presence at town meetings, commended the children for their effort and told them they're just getting started.

"Find out who your representatives and senators are and write them and carry this issue to the state of Vermont, and see if you can make an impact. I bet you can," Jolivette said. "This is the first step ... send your letters up there and tell them what you think. I'll give you the stamps."

In other business, the board set public hearing dates of Nov. 13 and Dec. 4 for the proposed downtown strategic plan forwarded by the Planning Commission. As the plan effectively amends the town plan, it requires two public hearings in order to be adopted.

The board also heard from Phyllis Lewis and Marge Fish of the Green Mountain Club Manchester Section on their plans to rebuild the Bromley Mountain Observation Tower. Lewis told the board that about $172,000 of a needed $262,000 has been raised for the project, and asked for the board's support.

"I'm proud of my town. I want us to be a part of this project," she said.

In February, Lewis had approached the board about being included on the Town Meeting warning for a voter appropriation, as four other Northshire towns did. At the time, she was told that the town could not do so, because voter appropriations need to be within the town limits and apply to human service organizations.

As much as he wanted to support the project, Beattie said, he could not commit the town to contributing financially for the same reasons that kept the question off the warning.

The project is still accepting donations at www.greenmountainclub.org/bromley.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or at 802-490-6000.

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