Manchester-by-the-Sea residents focused on the environment at annual Town Meeting last week, as residents voted to ban the use of plastic bags at local stores and to pay extra taxes to cap a former town dump.
The project to cap the Pine Street property is expected to cost $1.7 million, and will require passage of a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion — a property tax hike for the years it takes to pay off the debt — at the May 21 town election.
The Town Meeting article that passed, submitted by citizens’ petition, states that thin, single-use plastic bags with handles — typically used in checkout lines at grocery and other stores — shall not be distributed or sold at any store.
“We’re the second coastal community in Massachusetts to pass a ban against plastic bags in 25 years,” said Gary Gilbert, a former Planning Board member who submitted the article. “It sets the stage for all the coastal communities in Massachusetts.”
Gilbert said the other coastal community to ban the bags is Nantucket, which passed its law more than 20 years ago. The bylaw will be reviewed by the attorney general’s office, and will be implemented July 1 if approved.
In adopting the ban, Manchester-by-the-Sea also joined Brookline, which banned plastic bags and Styrofoam food and beverage containers at its Town Meeting in November, a change scheduled to go into effect in December. Officials in Newton and Cambridge also are considering a plastic bag ban.
The bags “harm or kill marine life,” Gilbert said. “When they get in the ocean as litter, they stay in the ocean, permanently. They don’t biodegrade; they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Those pieces stay in the ocean and float in kind of a jelly soup near the surface. . . . Plenty of animals are dead because they’ve ingested plastic.”
Selectman Tom Kehoe, a former science teacher in Marblehead, spoke against the ban, citing two main reasons.
“First of all, I don’t think you can legislate environmental awareness,” Kehoe said. “Secondly, if environmentalism is going to be legislated, it should be legislated from the state level, rather than having individual communities all have individual bylaws that could vary and create a very uneven climate for businesses in cities and towns.”
Kehoe also said that before putting the ban in place, there should have been outreach to local retailers to reduce their use voluntarily.
Residents also approved borrowing to cap the Pine Street property that was once a town dump. Capping the site would be the last step to remediate issues at 156-162 Pine St., as ordered by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The proposal to borrow the $1.7 million for the project received the required two-thirds majority at Town Meeting, and will go before a townwide vote May 21.
If approved, it would cost the owner of an average single-family house valued at $1 million about $70 annually. The average single-family bill in Manchester is $10,522 in fiscal 2013, which ends June 30.
Town Meeting voters also increased the number of days dogs are allowed on public beaches. Under the new rules, dogs are banned from April 15 through Oct. 15. Previously, the ban ran from April 1 through Oct. 31.