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Amherst Town Meeting approves ban on Styrofoam starting in 2014

AMHERST — Disposable food and drink containers made from expanded polystyrene will be prohibited beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

By a large majority, Town Meeting Monday voted to restrict restaurants from using expanded polystyrene, commonly referred to by the brand name Styrofoam, and in doing so joined several communities that have enacted similar bans, including Brookline, which passed a similar measure last week, and Great Barrington.

Recycling Coordinator Susan Waite said the measure was motivated by the continued town efforts to reduce waste, increase recycling and composting and support extended producer responsibility.

The Recycling and Refuse Management Committee, which brought the warrant article forward, will work with the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce to establish a consortium model to help businesses find suitable alternatives, Waite said.

A hardship clause will allow some restaurants an additional year to comply.

Ray Ehrlich, regional manager of government affairs and the environment for Dart Container Corp., urged Town Meeting to vote against the general bylaw because expanded polystyrene products are safe, can be recycled and are not the major factor in filling up landfills, he said. Ehrlich said expanded polystyrene makes up less than 1 percent of what goes into landfills by both weight and volume.

But Robert Reeves, general manager of the Lord Jeffery Inn, spoke in favor of the ban, noting that the hotel is already in full compliance and has reduced costs by eliminating Styrofoam.

Town Meeting defeated an amendment proposed by Carol Gray of Precinct 7, who wanted the restriction to begin July 1, 2013, as written in the original article, because of concerns about climate change causing increasing severity of hurricanes and other storms. “We cannot slow this train down,” Gray said.

Joan Temkin of Precinct 8, who works for the Amherst Chamber, said a compromise was reached when many businesses couldn’t meet the earlier deadline, especially those owned by people whose native language is not English.

Town Meeting also took up several spending articles on the first night of its fall session.

This included a $1 million bond for roadway repairs to continue catching up with an estimated $17 million backlog.

“This isn’t going to solve all our problems, but it’s a great step forward,” said Stephen Braun of Precinct 10, who serves as chairman of the Public Works Committee. “We’re all for it.”

Terry Franklin of Precinct 1 said he opposed the measure for borrowing because roads should be a priority appropriation in the annual budget.

“We don’t want to be in the position of more and more debt, more and more borrowing. That’s not the way to go, folks,” Franklin said.

Town Manager John Musante said the town should look to the legislature for transportation infrastructure needs.

“That would help us supplement our local dollars in a very significant way over the next several years to address the rest of our road needs,” Musante said.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring said streets that could get 20 years of life from resurfacing are likely to be targeted.

“There is no official list of what we’re going to do with the $1 million. We’re just going to do a $1 million worth of paving,” Mooring said.

Town Meeting agreed to move $585,342 in cash reserves to the Other Post-Employment Benefits trust fund, a liability estimated at $75 million.

Finance Committee member Robert Saul said the town has an obligation to pay benefits for retirees. This account, he said, will be a down payment against a known obligation the town will have to fund, one way or another, in time.

Saul acknowledged that the appropriation is mostly symbolic, but that it will allow the Finance Committee to establish a plan to confront more aggressively an expense expected to consume a growing portion of the municipal budget.

Town Meeting appropriated $151,500 from the Community Preservation Act to acquire the 20-acre Ricci property adjacent to the Mount Holyoke Range in South Amherst, an additional $81,500 in CPA funds for the 16-acre Brunelle property on Potwine Lane and $15,000 in CPA toward a $528,907 project to rehabilitate the North Common. All are dependent on state grant matches before the CPA money is appropriated.

Patricia Church of Precinct 5 said she has concerns about whether the rehabilitation of the North Common would require her to get a permit from a town board to continue to stage the weekly peace vigil, which has been going on for 34 consecutive years

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said town counsel has assured the town that the state grant requires no changes to the peace vigil or similar activities. Musante said the town will never charge a fee to hold a peace vigil.

Town Meeting also authorized Musante to enter into multi-year solar agreements so the town can act as a host customer and enter into agreements with the local utility to participate in the net metering program. This will allow any solar projects proposed, including one on W.D. Cowls property in North Amherst, to go forward.

Town Meeting resumes Nov. 26, when a series of warrant articles, many focused on stabilizing neighborhoods affected by rental properties, are to be presented.

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