Hadley Town Meeting approves plastic bag ban

HADLEY – Hadley’s annual town hall meeting on May 5 approved a plastic bag ban and more than $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. Board Clerk Jane Nevensmith introduced the bylaw, which prohibits retail and food establishments, non-profit or city food providers from transferring goods to consumers in plastic bags to single use thin film. Instead, checkout bags should be reusable, compostable, or recyclable.

“We can no longer ignore the long-term effects of overfilling our landfills, polluting our roads and the impact of waste on the planet,” Nevensmith said. “Plastic never really disintegrates but turns into small pellets that are found in all animals in the food chain, including humans. By passing this bylaw, Hadley will join 148 other Massachusetts communities that have already passed similar bylaws, including Amherst, Northampton, Easthampton and South Hadley. This regulation also prohibits the use of single-use plastic and polystyrene disposable containers for take-out meals. Straws are included in the ban. A recent survey of Route 9 in Hadley indicated that there are an average of 100,000 cars using this route per day. With Hadley having a population of 5,500, this ban is aimed primarily at non-residents passing through our town who eat here, shop here, and may or may not dispose of their plastics properly.

Most residents spoke out in favor of the ban, citing the impacts on wildlife and the litter strewn across the city. Others pointed to the energy it takes to make reusable bags and said they oppose the ban, even though residents are still allowed to use their own plastic bags from other cities, use plastic trash bags and bringing them to stores for use.

“In private conversations, I feel like I’m speaking on behalf of many people sitting here,” said first speaker Kirk Whately. “I oppose it with all vigor and vigour. Straws alone account for 0.03% of all plastics in landfills. Why don’t we make a choice? I go to Stop and Shop, I go to Big Y, I bring my own bags. I don’t want it shoved down my throat that I have to do something. I would like to be able to choose what I do.

The regulations state that retail establishments can sell recyclable or paper bags for up to $0.10 per bag. The regulations do not apply to plastic wrap, thin-film plastic bags used to hold dry cleaning or newspapers, packaging used for prescription drugs, or aluminum containers intended for catering or packaging of food intended to be served to more than one person.

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

Earlier in the meeting, the city unanimously approved the consent agenda items and the omnibus budget. Board member Amy Parsons said the notable increases were in benefits, including health, pension and life insurance. Education has seen a modest increase after being either reduced or funded by level in recent years. City staffing has also seen increases with overtime needed for parks and recreation and an additional firefighter.

The city has also passed several items for the Department of Public Works (DPW). They received $336,000 to paint the wells at Mount Warner and Mount Holyoke and purchase propane tanks. The DPW requested $400,000 for a new snowplow truck and sander, half of which came from the DPW Water Division. The moderator divided DPW’s individual requests into six sections to be voted on individually.

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

The city passed this motion, but once again Kelley ruled before the next section, which was an additional $127,500 from the water division for half the cost of a payloader. Sharon Parsons joined him and asked why the city 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 we have on Mill Valley Road. No one should have to look at their tub water and see it brown. I see this regularly,” Parsons said. “Water is a very important function of life, and for me, having to deal with bad water in my home every day is unnecessary. It’s time for the water to be fixed on Mill Valley Road and South Maple Street.

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

Board Chairman David Fill presented Jean Baxter with the W. Fred Oakley Award, an award established by the board to honor community members who exemplify the spirit of volunteerism and service to the city of Hadley.

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

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