The Bourne Finance Committee will recommend that a proposed warrant article calling for a plastic bottle ban bylaw be indefinitely postponed at next month’s Special/Annual Town Meeting. Committee members agreed that the wording in the article is confusing.
Article 15 on the warrant calls for a bylaw banning the purchase of single-use plastic bottles on town property. Former Bourne selectmen and current Charter Review Committee chairman Stephen F. Mealy spoke in support of the article during the finance committee’s remote meeting on Monday, March 29.
Mr. Mealy said the measure is designed to help clean up the environment in the Town of Bourne. He called the article a small step that the town can take “to address the amount of plastics which are being disposed of both on and off land.”
“It’s a way of getting people to start to think about and recognize the devastation that these plastics are causing to land and animals as well as ourselves,” he said.
Committee members said they supported the intent of the article but felt it was poorly written. Members questioned whether beverages such as water, soda or sports drinks could be sold during youth athletic games played on town fields.
Committee chairman Mary Jane Mastrangelo said getting people to think about the plastic situation “is commendable.” She questioned the wording, which only mentions town property as opposed to the use of town funds to make the purchase.
“Can the Town of Bourne purchase it at the Cumberland Farms down the street and then use it?” she asked.
Ms. Mastrangelo said the wording was confusing and limited in its scope. She said the article left open to interpretation such possibilities as the sale of drinks in vending machines in the Bourne public schools. The technical argument could be made, she said, that vendors provide the items and whoever puts the coins in the machine is the actual purchaser.
“So the Town of Bourne isn’t necessarily paying for it,” she said, reiterating that the article was confusing to her.
Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi said the circumstances under which the town would purchase single-use plastic bottles is “pretty rare.” He noted that the bylaw would not apply to vending machines or people bringing plastic bottled drinks with them in their lunch.
Committee member A. Wayne Sampson asked if the bylaw meant the town cannot provide bottled water to public officials working an emergency scene. Mr. Schiavi said that would be the case, “except for the very narrow exemption, if there’s some type of a public health emergency related to drinking water.”
Despite such an exemption, Mr. Sampson said he would have to oppose the article. He said emergency situations can sometimes stretch from 12 to 24 hours. Public safety officials have to be able to provide water during such a situation.
“I just wouldn’t want somebody to accuse the town of violating the bylaw,” he said.
Committee member Richard A. Lavoie asked for clarification that the bylaw would not apply to businesses, that it only applies to what town government employees can do. Mr. Schiavi confirmed that is the case, and Mr. Lavoie suggested that presentation of the article at Town Meeting needed to emphasize that point.
“I could see at Town Meeting we could get really bogged down with this,” he said, “if a lot of people come with the idea it would curb retail sales, and the way it’s worded, it’s sort of vague and it doesn’t specifically exclude that.”
Ms. Mastrangelo said that, in the past, when the wording of an article has been deemed to be confusing, the typical practice is to recommend indefinite postponement. She also pointed out that the article is a private petition, and wording of a private petition cannot be changed by the Bourne Board of Selectmen ahead of Town Meeting.
Only the petition’s proponents can change it, and everyone associated with it has to agree to the changes. She said there would not be enough time to make the necessary changes before the warrant is finalized.
Mr. Mealy agreed that enough questions had been raised by the finance committee that the proponents of the article will have to rework the wording. Bourne Recycling Committee member Amy Sharpe said her committee does not have a position on the article but the members “would be happy to work with people on the wording.”
The finance committee agreed to recommend indefinite postponement of the article during Town Meeting in May and presenting a revised article at Special Town Meeting in the fall.
Before the start of Monday’s meeting, Ms. Mastrangelo noted the death last week of committee member George Smith. Mr. Smith died on Saturday. He had been a member of the finance committee since 2017 and was a valued member, she said.
“He was a CPA and he’d been a comptroller,” Ms. Mastrangelo said, “and he had a lot of interesting insight into different issues, and he will definitely be missed, and we wish condolences to his wife, Joan.”