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Plastic bags not banned in Brattleboro ... yet

Second reading required for ordinance to take effect

BRATTLEBORO—Santa won’t need a brand new bag, at least not this year.

After the Nov. 7 final vote on the proposed plastic bag ordinance was waylaid by over an hour of public comment and multiple failed amendments, the Selectboard narrowly passed a different bag ban.

In a 3-2 decision, Selectboard member Tim Wessel successfully amended the bag ban “to align ourselves with California’s successful single-use plastic bag ban,” and prohibit retail and food-service establishments from giving customers thin-film single-use plastic bags with a thickness of 2.25 mils or less. A mil is a thousandth of an inch.

But because the ordinance was amended, thus creating a new ordinance, Nov. 7 marked its first public reading. It’s not the law yet.

“That doesn’t mean this is the ordinance,” Selectboard Chair Kate O’Connor said.

Town Manager Peter B. Elwell told Selectboard members and meeting attendees that ordinances have to be read twice before going into effect. First, the proposed ordinance is introduced at a Selectboard meeting, and then there’s a second reading at the next Board meeting.

At the Nov. 21 meeting, the public can comment on the proposed plastic bag ordinance and the Selectboard will vote on whether to approve it.

Or, Board members could amend it again, and then they would conduct a second reading of that ordinance at the next Selectboard meeting.

Either way, the bag ban won’t go into effect overnight.

Elwell reminded attendees the first phase of implementation is on July 1, 2018.

And there are ways out, he added.

If business owners “believe they would have some hardship in complying by that date, there’s a provision in this ordinance that allows them to request an extension,” Elwell said.

The Selectboard and the town manager’s staff created the ordinance in response to the March 2017 Town Meeting nonbinding referendum eliminating single-use plastic bags in town.

At the Nov. 7 meeting, Selectboard member John Allen noted, “Everybody has a different idea [about] this plastic issue.”

“Tonight I’ve heard the gamut of everybody’s reaction to what is necessary” to get plastic bag use out of Brattleboro shops, he said.

“So for us,” Allen continued, “we have to make this decision [...] and I’m just trying to come up with something that gets to the heart of what the [referendum] was, and try to appease as many [people] as we can with this one action.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #434 (Wednesday, November 15, 2017). This story appeared on page A1.

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