ESSEX — Numerous single-use plastics will be banned in town within the next two years. 

Fall Town Meeting on Monday night officially adapted the plastics ban into the town's general bylaws. Local businesses and eateries will have until Jan. 1, 2021, to switch over to biodegradable or contestable alternatives for straws, stirrers and stoppers; disposable food service ware made from polystyrene; and single-use plastic bags. 

In addition to reducing pollution and the town's carbon footprint, the bylaw states the ban "benefits public health by freeing up space in landfills, storm drains and sewer treatment facilities."

The bylaw includes an exemption that would allow these items to be bought in bulk. A motion to remove the exemption failed, as did another motion to move the enforcement date to Jan. 1, 2020. 

During public discussion, many expressed their support for the ban. 

Similar bans on single-use plastics have been enacted in Gloucester, Rockport and Manchester over the past three years. Just this past September, Rockport voters decided to take one step further and ban plastic water bottles by 2021. 

At this year's fall Town Meeting, around 100 registered voters filed in to the Essex Elementary School auditorium to voice their opinions on the 23 articles on the warrant. Each article was presented in order at the meeting by Town Moderator Jeffrey Jones.

The first six articles tweaked the towns the zoning bylaws and required a two-thirds majority for approval. All passed save for Article 5 — two-thirds of attendees rejected a zoning exemption for junk yards and car repair shops that service 20 or fewer unregistered or inoperative cars at any given time.

A motion to indefinitely postpone Article 1, which asked to define changes to an undefined or uncategorized plot of land as a change of land use, was unsuccessful with 42 in favor and 56 against. Ed Neal of Western Avenue, who called for the motion, argued against voting for "broad issues that change property rights," especially during fall Town Meeting where attendance is typically smaller.

An amendment was made to Article 3, which in part sought to shorten the distance between radio towers in town. Instead a half a mile in between, the length between two radio towers will remain at two miles as already written in the zoning bylaws. 

Article 2, which asked to delete note B ("40,000-square-foot minimum per dwelling unit in the Water Resource Protection District") from Chapter 6, section 6-3.2.1, and Article 4, which clarified exemptions in the site-plan review process for single-family homes, passed without discussion.

Essex Police will get new wheels, thanks to a $43,200 allocation of town funds. According to Chief Paul Francis, the money will go towards a 2020 Dodge Durango, which will replace the department's old Ford Explorer cruiser. The Explorer will be used by police for basic transportation and training purposes.

"Historically, we replace one cruiser per year when that cruiser approaches or passes the 100,000 mile mark," explained Francis.

Voters remedied a $17,000 deficit in the Cemetery Perpetual Care Fund. According to Town Accountant Virginia Antell, the fund's budgetary base is the interest fees gathered through the sale of burial plots, which have been declining for some time.

The town will chip in $7,200 for the Essex Fire Department's new radios. In September, the department received a portion of a $143,000 FEMA grant to purchase the radios under the condition the town would pony up 5 percent match.

The town's Water Department got the OK to spend $60,000 to fix the roof of the Water Treatment Plant on Centennial Grove Road. Water Department Chief Operator David Frithsen said the majority of the project will be re-shingling the roof, and no start date has been put in place.

At the beginning of the meeting, before any articles were introduced, fire Chief Daniel Doucette recognized several Essex firefighters for career milestones — Keith Carter, 40 years at Essex Fire Department; David Thompson, 25 years of service, George Stavros, 30 years of service; and Richard Dort, 25 years of service. Westley Burnham, who recently retired from the department, received a standing ovation for his 47 years of service.

In addition, Selectmen Chairman Andrew Spinney honored Public Works Administrative Clerk Mandy Davis with the Employee of the Year award and Bicentennial Committee Chairwoman Dawn Burnham with the Volunteer of the Year award. Public Works Superintendent Michael Galli was recognized for his 30 years of service to the town.

Here's how Essex Fall Town Meeting voted:

1. Amend zoning bylaw (Chapter 6, section 6-2.2) to include more provisions over undefined land. APPROVED by two-thirds majority.

2. Delete note B ("40,000-square-foot minimum per dwelling unit in the Water Resource Protection District") from Chapter 6, section 6-3.2.1 of the town's zoning bylaw. APPROVED by two-thirds majority.

3. Widen the types of radios exempt from the town's zoning bylaws for free-standing tower-type antennas (Chapter 6, section 6-3.4.5) and decrease the allowed space between towers to a half a mile. MOTION TO AMEND ARTICLE APPROVED — language to reduce space between towers removed. AMENDED ARTICLE APPROVED by two-thirds majority.

4. Add language to the town's zoning bylaws that clarifies single-family residential buildings are exempt from the site-plan review process (Chapter 6, section 6-3.5.2). APPROVED by two-thirds majority.

5. Add an exemption to the town's zoning bylaws for junk yards and car repair shops that service 20 or less unregistered or inoperative cars at any given time. (Chapter 6, section 6-5.8). FAILED by two-thirds majority.

6. Remove the temporary moratorium for recreational marijuana establishments from the town's zoning bylaws (Chapter 6 section 6-14). APPROVED by two-thirds majority.

7. Include Section 7-9, “Bylaw Regulating the Use of Certain Plastics by Commercial Establishments in the Town of Essex," into the town's general bylaws. APPROVED.

8. Delete “Resident Parking Stickers shall be valid until December 31 of the year of issue" from the town's general bylaws (Chapter V, Article 4, Section 1, Subsection (p)). APPROVED.

9. Secure $43,200 to purchase and replace an Essex police cruiser. APPROVED.

10. Amend the fiscal year 2020 budget as voted at Annual Town Meeting 2019 by increasing the selectmen's budget line item, "Advertise Town Resources," from zero to $23,500, paid for using general free cash. APPROVED.

11. Amend the fiscal year 2020 budget as voted at Annual Town Meeting 2019 by increasing the selectmen's budget line item, "Town Events, Incidental Expenses," from zero to $5,000, paid for using general free cash. APPROVED.

12. Replenish a $17,832 deficit in the Cemetery Perpetual Care Fund using general free cash. APPROVED.

13. Use $7,200 of general free cash to match a FEMA grant given to the Essex Fire Department to purchase new radios. APPROVED.

14. Use $100,000 of general free cash for the town's other post-employment benefits. APPROVED.

15. Use $53,000 of general free cash for the town's building capital improvements fund, which may also be used for the recreational capital improvements fund; purchase of vehicles and major equipment that qualify as capital purchases fund; Town Hall or Library repair and maintenance fund; Conomo Point Repair, Maintenance, and Improvement fund; and municipal street lighting repair and maintenance fund. APPROVED..

16. Use $5,000 from the town's technology fund to complete the installation of the Fiber Optic Municipal Area Network. APPROVED.

17. Use $7,500 from the town's technology fund to purchase and install computer equipment and any related software and peripherals. APPROVED..

18. Amend the fiscal year 2020 budget as voted at Annual Town Meeting 2019 by increasing Public Works' Highway Department budget line item, "Operator Wages," from zero to $27,000 using funds from the town's trash contract. 

19. Use $60,000 from the Water Department's free cash to fix the roof at the Essex Water Filtration Plant. APPROVED.

20. Use $50,000 of general free cash to remain in compliance with the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System regulations of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. APPROVED.

21. Use $38,617 of general free cash to replenish the Finance Committee's reserve fund. APPROVED.

22. Transfer $50,000 of general free cash to the town's Stabilization Fund. APPROVED.

23. Use $38,617 of general free cash to pay for unpaid bills from a past fiscal year. APPROVED by nine-tenths majority. 

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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