Hadley Town Meeting approves plastic bag ban

May 10, 2022 | Dylan Corey

HADLEY – Hadley’s Annual Town Meeting on May 5 approved a plastic bag ban and over $19 million for the fiscal year 2023 (FY23) omnibus budget.

The plastic bag ban was Article 19 and featured over 30 minutes of debate, the longest of any article. Select Board Clerk Jane Nevensmith introduced the bylaw, which prohibits retail and food establishments, nonprofit or town facility food providers from transferring merchandise to consumers in thin-film single-use plastic bags. Instead, check-out bags are required to be reusable, compostable or recyclable.

“We can no longer ignore the long-term effects of overfilling our landfills, the littering of our roads and the impact that trash has on the planet,” Nevensmith said. “Plastic never truly disintegrates but turns into small pellets which are found in all animals in the food chain, including humans. By passing this bylaw, Hadley will join 148 other communities in Massachusetts that have already passed similar bylaws including Amherst, Northampton, Easthampton and South Hadley. This bylaw also bans the use of single, one-time-use disposable plastic and Styrofoam containers for takeout foods. Straws are included in the ban. A recent survey on Route 9 in Hadley indicated that there are on average, 100,000 cars using this road a day. With Hadley having a population of 5,500, this ban is mostly addressing the non-residents who pass through our town who eat here, shop here and may or may not dispose of their plastics correctly.”

Most residents spoke in support of the ban, calling on impacts on wildlife and widespread litter in the town. Others pointed out the energy that is required to make reusable bags and said they opposed the ban, even though residents are still permitted to use their own plastic bags from other towns, use plastic trash bags and bring them to stores to use.

“In private conversations, I feel as though I speak for many people that are sitting here,” said the first speaker, Kirk Whately. “I oppose this with all vim and vigor. Straws alone account for 0.03 percent of all plastics in landfills. Why don’t we make it a choice? I go to Stop and Shop, I go to Big Y, I bring my own bags. I don’t want it rammed down my throat that I’ve got to do something. I would like to have the opportunity to choose what I do.”

The bylaw says retail establishments may sell recyclable or paper bags for sale up to $0.10 per bag. The bylaw does not apply to plastic wrap, thin-film plastic bags used to contain dry cleaning or newspapers, packaging utilized for prescription drugs or aluminum containers for the purpose of catering or packing of food for serving to more than one individual.

The bylaw eventually passed with a majority vote and applause broke out before many residents left the meeting early.

Earlier in the meeting, the town unanimously approved the consent agenda items and the omnibus budget. Select Board member Amy Parsons said notable increases are benefits including health, retirement and life insurance. Education had a modest increase after being either reduced or level-funded for the last few years. Town staffing also saw increases with extra hours needed for parks and recreation and an additional firefighter.

The town also passed multiple items for the Department of Public Works (DPW). They were given $336,000 to paint the Mount Warner and Mount Holyoke wells and purchase propane tanks. The DPW requested $400,000 for a new plow truck and sander with half of that coming from the DPW Water Division. The moderator had the individual DPW requests divided into six sections to be individually voted.

“The only issue I have with this is it’s $200,000 out of water reserves,” said DPW Water Division Primary Distribution Officer Bill Kelley. “We don’t use the truck, I think water reserves should be used for something more important in water. For instance the infrastructure on South Maple Street and Mill Valley Road. I don’t think water reserves should be used for a DPW truck that the Water Department has very, very, very little use with.”

The town passed this motion, but once again Kelley spoke out before the next section, which was another $127,500 from the water division for half the cost of a payloader. Sharon Parsons joined him and questioned why the town wasn’t focusing the money on improving water quality.

“First of all, I would like to thank the previous speaker for his consideration of the water quality that we have on Mill Valley Road. No person should have to look at their bathtub water and see it be brown. I see this regularly,” Parsons said. “Water is a function of life a very important one, and for me to have to deal with bad water in my home every single day is unnecessary. It’s about time that the water was fixed on Mill Valley Road and South Maple Street.”

This time, the residents were more convinced and the required two-thirds vote fell short with 75 for and 53 against.

Select Board Chair David Fill honored Jean Baxter with the W. Fred Oakley Award, an award established by the board to honor members of the community who embody the spirit of volunteerism and service to the town of Hadley.

“In Hadley, when you say ‘volunteer,’ Jean Baxter probably comes to mind,” Fill said. “Over the last few decades, she has volunteered her time selflessly to the town of Hadley, serving as a Girl Scout leader, PTO president, church committee member and the ‘parade lady’ of our Memorial Day Parade as the co-organizer and mastermind behind the parade since 2002. Jean, we thank you for your community-driven service to the town of Hadley, you’re a wonderful example to others.”

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