Oak Bluffs voters endorse plastic bag ban

Moped by-law gets slight revision, but selectmen expected to consider safety at April 25 meeting.

Voters in Oak Bluffs wrapped up a second night of town meeting Wednesday, which included a vote to ban plastic bags.

On Wednesday night it took Oak Bluffs voters took two hours to decide on 13 remaining warrant articles on the annual town meeting warrant that they didn’t claw through on Tuesday night.

A good number of voters filled the seats at the MVRHS Performing Arts Center (PAC), although attendance was noticeably lighter than Tuesday.

The two votes that elicited the most heat were the vote to ban plastic shopping bags and the vote to affirm that local police will not enforce federal immigration laws.

Initially, there were two warrant articles proposing plastic bag bans. Article 44 was crafted by the Vineyard Conservation Society, and adapted by each town in 2016, except for Oak Bluffs. It advocated a thickness minimum of .4 mls for plastic bags—essentially allowing only reusable bags.

Article 45 was drafted by a group of Oak Bluffs merchants, and advocated for a .25 minimum thickness, and a composting process for which no facilities exist on the Island.

The merchants group pulled Article 45 after the proponents of Article 44 agreed to a one year “hardship” clause that could be granted by the Board of Health, and in a unique concession to Oak Bluffs, could be extended up to three years.

The “yes” vote on Article 44 generated some of the loudest applause of the night.

Passage of the warrant article that affirmed that local police would not enforce federal  immigration laws, or to check the immigration status of anyone who calls in a crime or who is arrested for one, was also enthusiastically applauded after a nearly unanimous vote.

“Our job is to enforce laws of Massachusetts and by-laws of Oak Bluffs,” police chief Erik Blake said. “People, regardless of their status, do not need to fear local law enforcement if they are not criminals…We will absolutely assist federal agencies when they request it, but while I’m police chief we will not be acting as federal agents.”

Although rental mopeds have been an explosive issue since last summer, the article that would have revoked the licenses of the business owners for by-law infractions was dismissed with little debate, after attorney Michael Goldsmith informed the voters that the proposed article would not hold water with the state attorney general.

Oak Bluffs EMT Scott Richards made an emotional plea to selectmen to address the issue. “Moped accidents are some of the worst I see,” he said. “I’m not trying to hurt business owners, but I’m sick of scraping people off the tarmac.”

The nine month campaign to ban rental mopeds by the Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee (MADAC) produced only cursory amendments to the existing town by-laws at town meeting — requiring proper footwear and setting a 4’ 8” minimum height limit for passengers — putting the fate of rental mopeds squarely on the selectmen’s shoulders.  

At their next meeting on April 25, the board will decide whether or not to renew the licenses of the three moped rental businesses in town. Town counsel Ron Rappaport of Reynolds, Rappaport, Kaplan & Hackney was on hand at the board’s March 28 meeting to “gather the facts” so he could render an informed opinion at the upcoming meeting. At the March 28 meeting, he reiterated the point made in attorney Michael Goldsmith’s 13-page legal opinion which cited a 1981 State Supreme Court decision that denied Provincetown’s proposed ban on rental mopeds.   

However, Mr. Rappaport also said the training track by-law — requiring an on-site 50-foot-long, 25-foot-wide test track — is a matter of public safety which he would consider separately. The test track requirement has never been enforced since the by-laws were revised in 2002. Former selectmen Todd Rebello, who helped pen the revisions, has repeatedly told selectmen the requirement was only to ensure no new moped businesses would open in Oak Bluffs, and that the current businesses are grandfathered.  

This may not be the case.

At the March 28 selectmen’s meeting, Mr. Rappaport told the board, “There are specific statutes dealing with grandfathering in Massachusetts general law. There are a whole host of cases which say that if you don’t specifically state grandfathering, there is no grandfathering.” This leaves the door open for the board to enforce the test track provision, which could potentially shut down the three moped rental concerns in Oak Bluffs because they don’t have the room to create a test track on their premises. Moped by-laws also state that a moped businesses cannot change location without forfeiting its license.

Selectmen can also choose on April 25 to negotiate a “suitable alternative” to an on-site test track, according to current by-laws.

Their decision will come against a backdrop of a lawsuit against the town. On March 23, North Andover–based attorney Daniel Murphy Jr. sent a “presentment letter” to Ms. Barmakian, informing her that he is suing the town of Oak Bluffs on behalf of his client, Noelle Lambert, the New Hampshire woman who lost a leg in a horrific moped accident last summer. The moped was rented at Ride On Mopeds in Oak Bluffs. According to Mr. Murphy’s letter, “Over the years, Town of Oak Bluffs has consistently disregarded its own bylaws with respect to moped rentals. Because of this, Ms. Lambert was placed in a dangerous and avoidable situation, which led to her accident.”

An article that would have allowed an Oak Bluffs Planning Board approved change the zoning on 3 Uncas Ave.,from residential (R-1) to commercial (B-1), was rejected by town voters. Selectmen Mike Santoro and Gail Barmakian also opposed the change.

The absence of a post-demolition plan appeared to sink the article, even though former planning board chairman John Bradford told the assembled that the parcel had been originally zoned B-1.

Passage required a two-thirds vote, and the 89 yea votes were sunk by the 53 nay votes.

Two articles that bolstered services for seniors, including an $11,200 expenditure to help fund CORE an Island-wide program that provides “Counseling Outreach and Referral for the Elderly — were approved with nary a nay vote.