HomeCATNews UpdatesLocal GovernmentPlastic Bag Reduction Bylaw Raises Eyebrows at Board of Health Meeting

Plastic Bag Reduction Bylaw Raises Eyebrows at Board of Health Meeting

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It’s complicated.

That’s the message Board of Health members sent on Feb. 12 to resident Richard Coleman and his followers who are in favor of reducing the distribution of plastic bags by local retail outlets.

Coleman has filed a long and complex citizen petition for annual Town Meeting seeking to enforce the restriction. Board of Health members say, while they agree with Coleman’s objective, his proposed bylaw is fraught with language issues that requires extensive editing.

“Typically this board writes its own bylaws,” said BoH member Michele Pitoniak-Crawford after her colleagues dissected the bylaw’s wording. The petition appears as Article 28 on the annual Town Meeting warrant.

The board members punched holes in the sections labeled definitions, enforcement and penalties, and variances, but ultimately created a working group to review the bylaw and come up with a draft prior to Town Meeting that can be enforced. [Scroll to continue reading.]

The Board of Health primarily inspects food establishments but the proposed bylaw would require the members to hear variance requests from retail outlets outside its purview.

Coleman said he took the wording for the bylaw from one he successfully pushed through in 2017 that restricted the use in town of polystyrene containers, such as ones provided by restaurants for take-home meals.

“I figured if that worked in the past, it should work now,” said Coleman of his original bylaw.

However, Health Director Jeffrey Stephens said the Board of Health had no input on the wording of the polystyrene bylaw, leaving the members to deal with the difficulties of its language.

“That’s why we’re here,” said Stephens referring to the purpose of the Feb. 12 meeting.

Coleman argued that the bylaw was written to make the Board of Selectmen be the overall governing body. But BoH Chairman Zac Cataldo and member Joanne Belanger noted that under the Enforcement section, the bylaw assigns the Board of Selectmen “or its designee” as the enforcing body. It contradicts that rule in the next sentence by authorizing the Board of Health “or its designee” to enforce compliance.

“The Board of Selectmen cannot designate the Board of Health…nor can we designate any other department in this town to do work…this is not within our purview,” said Belanger.

Cataldo said the working group will consist of a member of the Board of Selectmen, a representative of the town manager’s office and various other town committee members.

The Board of Health has one more meeting scheduled before Town Meeting opens on March 24.