Three students from Plastic Free MV went before the Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday night in hopes of getting their plastic bottle ban article approved for the warrant at the upcoming annual town meeting, but selectmen want to see more discussion.
Jasper Ralph and Elliot Stead, students at the West Tisbury School, and Finn Robinson, a student at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, read from a prepared statement asking for their bottle bylaw to be put on the upcoming town warrant, and informing the board of the hazards created by plastic bottles.
The goal of Plastic Free MV is to eliminate the use of disposable plastic water and soda bottles 34 ounces (roughly one liter) and under; gallons and large containers would still be allowed. If passed in Oak Bluffs, the bylaw would take effect May 1, 2021.
To make up for the lack of plastic bottles sold and distributed on the Island, the students are advocating for convenient water refill stations in businesses and public areas.
“Plastic waste is overwhelming society’s ability to manage it,” Finn said.
The group of young activist students were successful in getting the article passed by voters in the up-Island towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. The law will go into effect for those towns in May.
Now the students have their sights set down-Island. The group has visited selectmen in Tisbury, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs to pitch their bottle ban.
“I think it’s very possible to do away with plastics, like Cronig’s. Their down-Island store is doing that just by their own will,” Finn said.
Selectmen told the students they appreciated their efforts and supported their cause, but stressed getting the bylaw passed down-Island would be a different challenge.
“Down-Island towns, especially Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, have a different impact than the up-Island towns, and there’s a major financial impact,” selectman Gail Barmakian said.
“It’s hard to compare the up-Island and down-Island towns because the number of people that come through down-Island towns is exponential,” selectman Greg Coogan said.
The deadline to submit articles for the Oak Bluffs warrant is Feb. 17.
Selectman Brian Packish suggested the group hold a forum at the board’s next meeting on Feb. 11, where business owners and other members of the public could learn more about the bylaw.
“My phone’s off the hook from Oak Bluffs businesses that are completely unhappy with this conversation,” Packish said. “That doesn’t mean that that’s how I feel, or anybody else on the board feels; it’s just important we’re mindful of that portion of our constituency as well.”
West Tisbury teacher Annemarie Ralph, who accompanied the students to Tuesday’s meeting, said there was a level of frustration on Plastic Free’s end because they’ve held forums, but people don’t show up.
Barmakian said the group needs to reach out directly to businesses to talk about how the bylaw could impact them.
“Personally, I think it’s great, I think we all do,” selectman Michael Santoro said. “We’re just worried about a financial hit that some of these businesses could take … it’s a little different in our town than in other towns.”
Coogan, along with other selectmen, praised the students for their efforts. “Keep on coming, keep on pushing. You’re doing a great job,” Coogan said.
In other business, selectmen unanimously voted to choose Atlantic Construction and Management Inc. as the owner’s project manager (OPM) for its town hall renovation project.
Packish cited Atlantic’s focus on a tight timeline, previous work on the roof at the Oak Bluffs School, and history with Icon Architecture, the designers behind the planned renovations.
Now that the town has selected an OPM, it will engage a contractor, according to Packish.
“Ultimately our hope is to get to town meeting with a price developed through that contractor with a maximum bid price for the project,” Packish said. “Hopefully town meeting will have the comfort level of ‘Here’s the project, here’s how much it costs,’ because it’s been pre-bid.”
Selectmen also said the trailers will most likely be used for town hall employees once renovations on the town hall begin.
“To remove the trailers and then bring them back is going to cost 10 times what it costs to just keep them there,” selectman Jason Balboni said.
The trailers were meant to house town employees while a new town hall was built, but the trailers have gone largely unused, and were broken into in May. The trailers were installed in April 2018, and leased for $8,200 a month for 18 months. The town continues to rent the trailers on a month-to-month basis.
Santoro joked the trailers were used as “affordable housing,” referring to the May breaking and entering incident.
In 2017, town voters approved $9.8 million for a new town hall, but the following year, two separate bids for the project came in over budget, the last being as high as $11.1 million, according to Packish. A vote to approve an additional $1.3 million was shot down by voters at a special election in November.
Over the summer, the trailers were used by Oak Bluffs School administration while repairs were being done on the school.
Selectmen also approved a nonbinding warrant article that encourages the town, along with the rest of the Island, to reduce its use of fossil fuels to as close to zero as possible, and replace it with renewable energy sources. The article was submitted by the town’s energy committee, headed by Richard Toole.