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AG approves Concord's ban on sale of plastic water bottles

Posted by Leslie Anderson  September 5, 2012 11:00 AM

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The sale of single-serving plastic water bottles 1 liter or less will be illegal in Concord starting, Jan. 1.

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office signed off on the bylaw that was approved by residents at Town Meeting in April, making Concord one of the first communities in the nation to ban the bottles.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am,’’ said resident Jean Hill, who spearheaded the effort for environmental and health concerns. “It took three years to do this and now that it’s happened, I’m so relieved.’’

The plan was approved at Town Meeting in 2010 but shot down by the state attorney general’s office, which found that it was not written as a valid bylaw. It was revised and resubmitted in 2011, but was defeated by seven votes. Hill presented her proposal again this April and it passed 403 to 364.

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office has been reviewing the bylaw since then to make sure it did not violate state or federal laws. The town received a notice from her office Wednesday morning approving the legality of the bylaw.

The letter says the attorney general’s limited standard of review requires her to approve or disapprove by-laws “based solely on their consistency with state and federal law, not on any policy views she may have on the subject matter or wisdom of the by-law.”

However, the letter states that her ruling does not preclude someone from challenging the law in court.

Town Manager Chris Whelan said now that the bylaw has been approved by the attorney general’s office, it will go into effect Jan. 1.

“Our intention is to uphold the will of the voters,’’ Whelan said.

According to the bylaw, Whelan, or his designee, is responding for enforcing the new law. Whelan said he will work with the Board of Health this fall to write up the regulations and set up an enforcement policy. According to the bylaw, any establishment violating the ban is subject to a warning for the first offense, a $25 fine for the second offense, and $50 fine for the third and subsequent offenses.

The bylaw does provide for an exemption during emergencies. It also allows the Board of Selectmen to suspend the bylaw if the cost of implementing or enforcing it becomes unreasonable.

The International Bottled Water Association and several local businesses were opposed to the ban. Jim Crosby, chairman of the board for Crosby’s Marketplace, which has a store on Sudbury Road, has said he doesn’t think the ban will stop people from buying water but could drive them out of town.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

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