At its Tuesday meeting, the Oak Bluffs select board took up potentially banning the sale of plastic nip bottles — bottles of alcohol under 100mL.
Select board chair Ryan Ruley said the town has mulled over the potential nip ban for a while, and has been remotivated by Nantucket’s successful enactment of a similar restriction. Nantucket’s new bylaw aimed at reducing litter was approved overwhelmingly by voters at their annual town meeting last year, in a 496-73 vote.
Previous attempts to ban the small alcohol bottles on Martha’s Vineyard have all failed to gain the traction needed to move forward, unlike in other towns across the commonwealth: Falmouth, Chelsea, Mashpee, Newton, and Wareham already have bans in place; a handful of other municipalities have plans to do the same.
The amount of empty mini alcohol bottles found around town, Ruley said, is “pretty egregious,” noting that the problem does not affect just Oak Bluffs but is pervasive Island-wide.
Select board member Brian Packish agreed. “Every single Earth Day, every single cleanup day,” he said, “It’s bags and bags and bags of nip bottles [being collected],” adding that he’s even pulled up empty nip containers from pond waters when scalloping.
Oak Bluffs resident Lynn Vera told the board that she “picked up 10 in Ocean Park while on a short walk” Tuesday afternoon; Richard Toole agreed: “I go out on the bike path every day, and it’s ridiculous,” he said.
Craig Dripps, president of the East Chop Association, extolled the board for taking steps to minimize the litter caused by nip bottles, sharing that efforts made to work with the state to push forward a bill to ban them were ultimately unsuccessful.
Packish emphasized that looking into a potential ban “has nothing to do with alcohol … it simply has to do with litter.”
“We’ve tried everything else,” he said, including trying to enact a 5-cent deposit on the bottle sales.
Packish recommended putting the topic in front of voters at the annual town meeting in the spring. “I think it’s going to prove to be a no-brainer,” he said.
Select board member Gail Barmakian raised concerns regarding what could happen if Oak Bluffs moves forward with the ban without the support of all six towns, particularly given the proximity of Edgartown. “I’m just fearful everybody’s going to go to Edgartown to buy nips,” she said. “I fear for our liquor stores.” When it comes to a multi-town agreement on the matter, Barmakian said, it’s important that “everybody’s on the same boat.”
Town administrator Deborah Potter agreed, and said it’d be crucial to involve all six towns in the conversation. Given that some towns have reported issues with retailers unable to sell off their nip inventory, she said, it’d be ideal to give Island alcohol retailers an adequate amount of time to adapt to the change and reduce inventory before a potential deadline, assuming the ban passes at town meeting in the spring. “There’s no reason why we can’t at least try,” Potter said.
Also on Tuesday, the select board approved an interim internet policy, which gives the board wide-ranging authority to regulate municipal internet access.
Per the new policy, “the town reserves the right to adjust or restrict public access outside of published business hours for specified periods, as deemed appropriate by the select board,” in addition to reserving the right to “access, review, or monitor all use of town internet access as deemed necessary and appropriate. All use of town internet service can be disclosed to law enforcement or other third parties without prior consent of the user.”
Potter said a town policy is needed, as “security of the internet and access to the internet is a serious concern.”
Reiterating her previous statements, Barmakian stated that the policy allows the select board too much power, as access would be completely at the discretion of the select board, and the board alone.
The policy also got pushback from library director Allyson Malik, who vehemently opposed it, and agreed with Barmakian. “I need to advocate for the library,” Malik said. “It’s a slippery slope.”
Considering a former offer from Barmakian to try to reword the policy to make it more palatable, Malik asked the select board to allow more time for that process. Approving the policy as is, she said, “opens a door that’s not going to be possible to close later on.”
“The select board doesn’t have total control over everything that happens in every town building,” Barmakian argued, noting that in other towns, library internet access is under the purview of the library board of trustees. She said she’d like to work on the wording of the policy and have it back to the board by its next meeting.
Potter reminded the board members that the town’s bylaws state that “the select board has authority over all other departments and boards,” unless provisions state otherwise. Potter said in this case, the library trustees do not have the authority to dictate policy concerning internet access.
Potter noted the policy is meant to “cover the interest of the town,” and to “fill in gaps of liability.”
Additionally, she said, the policy is “easily adaptable and changeable, as we determine there may be a need to do so.”
The board subsequently approved the policy in a 3-1 vote, with Barmakian opposing.
In other business, the select board approved requests for temporary business closures.
Offshore Ale will be closed from March 6 to 15, and the Ritz is set to close from Feb. 1 to March 6.