Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban May Soon Become Mass. Law

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Asst., Urban Initiative

There may soon be fewer plastic bags decorating the trees in our municipal parks, or lining the curbs of city streets, ready to be washed into storm drains to clog sewers during the next rainfall. The Joint House and Senate Environment, Natural Resource and Agriculture Committee has approved Senate Bill 2314, “An act relative to plastic bag reduction,” that would ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags statewide. Incorporating a draft of House Bill 1990, the measure could be scheduled for a final vote in the next few weeks. Many US cities have banned plastic bags (this year, Los Angeles became the largest city to do so), but passage of this bill would make Massachusetts the first state to enact a statewide ban of single-use plastic bags (every county in Hawaii has passed its own plastic bag ban, so there is a de facto state-wide ban in Hawaii).

Sponsored by State Representative Lori A. Ehrlich (D-Marblehead), the bill would require retailers to provide compostable bags at checkout, eliminating non-biodegradable plastic bags. Retailers larger than 4,000 square feet will be affected. At least one manufacturer of the bioplastic resins used in compostable bags, Metabolix, is located here in Massachusetts.

Besides their unattractive appearance, discarded plastic bags choke wildlife, and annually add the equivalent of 12 million barrels to our national thirst for oil. Single-use plastic bags are also challenging to recycle; at least 90% of the estimated 380 billion bags that are used annually in the USA are not recycled.

The Massachusetts Plastic Bag Reduction Act would help reduce marine pollution and debris along our state’s 1500 miles of coastline and in city harbors, including Fall River and New Bedford. The legislation is compatible with the draft Massachusetts 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan, also known as the “Pathway to Zero Waste.”

Meet our high school interns!

This summer, it seems like the Urban Initiative team just keeps growing! We consider ourselves lucky to have two fantastic high school interns working with us, not only because of our hefty workload this summer, but also because Emma York and Adam Vieira come to us with some impressive experience doing policy research and analysis. These New Bedford High School students are part of the school’s Student Committee for Educational Progress, a group that just released an impressive report that assesses the performance of the school district across areas like attendance, discipline, high school readiness, classroom instruction, and technology. Learn more about the SCEP at their website, and click here to read their report.

Meanwhile, meet the interns!

From Emma York:

Hello readers,

I am currently entering my sophomore year at New Bedford High School (NBHS) and have recently begun working as a summer intern at the Urban Initiative. I have always been intrigued by the intricate web of society and the ability of a small group of inspired and enthusiastic people to create a large, lasting impact that benefits their community. Therefore, I am excited to begin forming connections between daily life and data here at the initiative in order to better my understanding of the ways in which the world works and to create community based solutions to injustices and inefficiencies in the area. I hope to be able to share this exciting educational experience with you and to provide the perspective of an inquisitive student and insight into the discussions taking place in the greater urban community so that solutions can be created, proposed and implemented. I have always enjoyed activities such as debate, dance, and committees including the Student Committee for Educational Progress (SCEP) and the Bioneers Youth Council that engage both my logical, often overly organized, left brain and my spontaneous, artistic and empathetic right brain and I feel that this will be the perfect way in which to do so. The Urban Initiative is a place where ideas can converge and I cannot wait to begin to contribute to this thought provoking dialogue.

Happy reading!


From Adam Vieira:

Hello readers,

My name is Adam Vieira, and I am a recently hired summer intern for the Urban Initiative program. I am a rising-junior member of the New Bedford High School family, and I wear that distinction with the utmost pride. As elected Chairman of the NBHS Student Advisory Council and Student Representative on the New Bedford Public School Committee, I represent the veritable concerns of the city’s student body, regardless of how small or how sweeping. In addition, I am a founding member of the Student Committee for Educational Progress, which seeks the implementation of a genuinely conducive, engaging, and ultimately rewarding learning environment for each student that steps foot into a New Bedford Public School. With this passion and interest for education reform vested within me, I look forward to providing some insightful, thought-provoking commentary on various education issues, in addition to a myriad other topics that affect urban cities, such as socioeconomics, politics, the environment, and even culture. In conjunction with Urban Initiative, I strive to not only highlight and broadcast where urban centers currently are, but also where their gleaming potential may whisk them off to in the near future.

Yours Till Niagara Falls (or for Two Years)

Robert Golder, Graduate Research Asst., Urban Initiative

I drove through Niagara Falls, New York last week. Traveling east from Ontario in the evening, I crossed the Gorge by way of the Rainbow Bridge, as spotlights in lovely pastel colors illuminated the roaring cataracts a few hundred yards to the south. But as I returned to the USA, and got my first good look at the city of Niagara Falls, I decided that the smartest thing I could do was to continue driving to Massachusetts as quickly as possible.

Niagara Falls, the geological structure, is breathtaking, but Niagara Falls, the urban landscape, is appalling.

At the peak of its reliance on manufacturing, with tourism a secondary support for the local economy, more than 100,000 people lived in the bustling city of Niagara Falls. Manufacturing took a severe hit in 1978 with the declaration of a federal emergency at Love Canal, where toxic wastes had been dumped for decades before a residential neighborhood was built on the site. The 2000 Census recorded only 55,593 people in Niagara Falls, as residents fled a declining city to find work elsewhere (the unemployment rate was hovering around 10%). By the 2010 Census, the population count had dropped still further, to 50,193. More than ten percent of the population disappeared in those ten years.

The city’s community development director, Seth A. Piccirillo, realized that if the population of Niagara Falls dropped below 50,000, the city would no longer qualify for key funding aid. Thus he devised a plan that is getting national attention: Niagara Falls is attempting to lure some of the best and brightest college graduates in the country by offering to pay their student loans if they become city residents and participate in the revitalization of Niagara Falls for, at minimum, a period of two years. Hundreds of people, from as far away as Hawaii, have inquired about the program. Only twenty will be selected at first. The highest priority will be given to those who buy a home and participate in community service. Officials hope that some of these new, bright lights in the community will start businesses, serving as “urban pioneers” and providing the spark needed to get Niagara Falls growing again.

Piccirillo has his work cut out for him, in a city that seems to care little about educating its own children, never mind bringing in other people’s college-educated offspring to kickstart a moribund economy. A June 19 article by Tony Farina in the Niagara Falls Reporter described the challenges faced by school leaders in the city as they try a second time to get a capital projects referendum passed by the voters. Last year, a $130 million referendum failed to gain voter approval, even though 100% of the cost would have been covered by the State of New York! The new referendum, to be voted in September, drops the figure by half, to $65 million, which will also be fully reimbursable by the state. Should this second attempt to vote for free money fail, city leaders may need to give up on it, and have the voters foot the bill themselves through increased property taxes, because repairs must be done to literally keep the ceilings and roofs of the buildings from caving in. Let’s hope that some young educators and urban planners take advantage of Piccirillo’s plan, and move to Niagara Falls soon.

Trouble in (Trout) Paradise

by Robert Golder, Graduate Research Asst., Urban Initiative

Traverse City, MI offers fly fishing for wild trout.

A lot of U.S. cities would like to have the problems of Traverse City, Michigan. Median household income and median house or condo values have risen, albeit slowly, during the past decade, a trend not seen in other Michigan cities like Detroit, where in December 2008 the median home price was an astonishing $7500 (yes, that’s seven thousand, five hundred dollars). Crime statistics in Traverse City are on an overall downward trend. In 2009 the city violent crime rate was lower than the national violent crime rate average by 48.2% (Detroit’s crime rate is down too, but this may be due to the fact that a thousand people per month are fleeing the Motor City; as mayoral candidate Stanley Christmas explained, “There just isn’t anyone left to kill”).

On a recent trip to Michigan, I bypassed Detroit but spent some time examining Traverse City’s greatest and most unusual asset: the Boardman River, a sparkling, scenic trout stream that flows out of a forested watershed and wends its way through town before emptying into Grand Traverse Bay, and thence into Lake Michigan. Frequently found on sportsmen’s lists of the ten best trout streams in the U.S.A., the river’s many positive characteristics are enumerated in a “Boardman River Watershed Prosperity Plan” developed by a dozen regional organizations intent upon “developing a new approach to natural resource planning in light of dam removal and the Boardman’s return to a free flowing river.”

Existing free-flowing sections of the river are full of trout and attract many anglers, but Traverse City and Grand Traverse County have jointly decided to remove three dams on the Boardman River, and to greatly modify a fourth dam, in order to free more of the river. The project will get underway any day now with the removal of the Brown Bridge Dam, located furthest upstream; removal of the other dams will follow. This is the biggest dam removal project in state history, and the largest-ever wetlands restoration in the Great Lakes region. It will reconnect 160 miles of stream habitat, allow fish migration throughout the river system, increase biodiversity, and further integrate urban and wild environments in a positive fashion. The project is expected to attract millions of dollars to the region in increased tourism, recreation, and property values.

The Brown Bridge Dam is about to be entirely removed.

However, not everyone feels that their property values are being enhanced by the project. Houses that were built along the shores of the dammed impoundments are no longer waterfront properties. The lakes within the river system, artificially created long ago when the dams were built, are disappearing as water is drawn down prior to the dam removals. These homeowners feel as though they have lost lakefront property and are too distant from the restored river to feel a sense of connection to it. The project leaders believe that the newly exposed lands are public property; it remains to be seen whether homeowners will challenge this assumption and claim ownership to the water’s edge, as was their previous condition.

Drawdown of this lake has begun. Soon, all of the standing water visible here will be gone.

Ironically, some anglers worry that the river will be improved too much and too well by the dam removals. Creating long, unbroken stretches of free-flowing water will encourage canoe and kayak liveries to offer more boat rentals and guided day trips. Increased canoe traffic on the river conflicts with angler usage, because it will disrupt the feeding patterns of trout. The wild fish flee for cover when a canoe passes by, upsetting every angler who was luxuriating in the peace and quiet of casting a fly on the Boardman’s waters to a rising trout. Local anglers are concerned that a simple benefit-cost analysis will favor the boat business, because more money is likely to enter the local economy through new boating activities, rather than by traditional fly fishing.

Local conservationist and bamboo rod maker Bob Summers fishes a wild, free-flowing section of the Boardman River.

Civil rights activist to speak in New Bedford on Thursday

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, journalist and civil rights activist, will speak in New Bedford on Thursday, July 5 at 6p at the Rotch Jones Duff House. She will be signing copies of her book, To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement, which documents her experiences growing up in the racially segregated South and being one of the first two African-American students to enroll at the University of Georgia.

More details available in this Standard Times story that appeared yesterday.