Massachusetts Town Undoes Revolutionary Bottled Water Ban
by Timothy Hurst
One year after making international headlines as the first town in the United States—and possibly the world—to ban the sale of bottled water, voters at the annual Town Meeting in Concord, Massachusetts this week rejected the water bottle ban, passing instead a proposal educating Concord citizens about the environmental impacts of water bottles.
The initial ban, passed in April 2010, was set to go into effect on January 1, 2011, but the state attorney general's office said it was written as a bylaw that could not be enforced. The measure voted on this week would have addressed that specific problem, but it would not have protected the town against probable lawsuits from industry groups.
"The cost of defending ourselves against such a lawsuit could be steep," Jeff Wieand, chairman of the Concord Board of Selectmen, told the Boston Globe. "It's possible we could get a law firm to defend us pro bono, but if that didn't happen it would be a significant expense for the town."
Known as the home of environmentalist Henry David Thoreau, it seemed fitting last spring when citizens of Concord approved the anti-establishment water bottle ban. But Concord is also known for being host to the first battle of the American Revolution. And ultimately it was not only the cost of likely litigation that won out over environmentalism, it was also the cause of liberty, or so said the bill's opponents.
Whichever historical metaphor one applies to this story, it is safe to say that the protagonists in neither would be very impressed with the (small d) democratic tendencies in Concord, population 17,000, as evidenced by voter turnout at Town Meeting. A total of 537 residents voted on the measure at the Town Meeting; 272 opposed the ban and 265 supported it.
But in all fairness to Concordians, the bill came up for consideration late in the evening, around 11 p.m., after many residents had already gone home, according to Jean Hill, who filed the petition to ban the water bottles. Hill says the battle she's fighting for the environment is not over yet.
“I’m coming back next year. I’m 83 and I’m tough. I don’t give up,” said Hill.
Maybe those historical metaphors are appropriate after all.
Reprinted with permission from Ecopolitology