Two years after they were banned in the Long Island villages of Southampton and East Hampton, a movement to stop the sale of single-use plastic shopping bags has come to Westchester County and is rapidly spreading. In 2011, the Town of Rye became the first municipality in the county to enact a ban. Mamaroneck soon followed suit along with Larchmont, which passed a ban ordinance on March 19. Tuckahoe is slated to hold hearings on the issue.
In Tarrytown, the village environmental advisory council (TEAC) has invited Sara Goddard, chair of the Rye Sustainability Council, to speak about the issue in its new “Nurturing Our Green Roots” series at Warner Library, on Monday, May 20 at 7 p.m. In the talk, Goddard will explain how she and the Rye council raised awareness and advocated for the ban, and will discuss the impact it’s had on the community and local businesses. A screening of the documentary Bag It!, a film that looks at the environmental and health issues surrounding plastic, will follow the talk.
While Rye is the first community in Westchester County to ban plastic bags, it is only one of many towns and cities across the country that have now done so, including San Francisco and Portland. Chinese officials say its 2008 ban has saved 4.8 million tons of oil, and kept 800,000 tons of plastic out of landfills.
“People need to know that this is a very simple change,” said Goddard. “It’s a relatively painless change that will yield enormous benefits for the environment.” Goddard said that, to date, all New York State plastic bag legislation, including the Rye law, have been modeled after nearby Westport Connecticut’s 2008 ordinance. That law exempted produce and dry cleaner bags.
Created by a Swedish inventor in the mid-1960s, the plastic shopping bag was introduced to U.S. shoppers in 1975. In the decades since, it has become an all-but-universal feature of American life that many people could scarcely imagine living without. But to a growing number of activists and concerned scientists, single-use plastic shopping bags are nothing less than an ecological menace--a pointless environmental nightmare that it’s time to wake up from.
According to Goddard, currently between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually world-wide. Very few are recycled, due to high contamination rates, cost inefficiency, lack of suitable markets and the tendency of bags to jam sorting machinery. When bags are recycled, she explained, they are usually sent overseas where labor is cheaper and regulations are more lax. In practice, many bags end up in the ocean and waterway and clog storm drains.
Scientists say that excessive use of plastic is responsible for serious damage to marine ecosystems, as discarded plastics from land blow into sewer drains and wash into the ocean, where they are broken up into small pieces and ingested by fish, birds, turtles and other ocean life. About 44 percent of seabirds accidentally eat plastic and are often killed by it. All in all, at least 267 marine species are affected by plastic.
And because plastic doesn’t fully degrade in the environment, the effects of its pollution last for many decades or longer. The infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating soup of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean that is often cited as an example of just how enormous the plastic pollution crisis is; the patch is estimated by scientists to be twice the size of Texas. Scientists have recently discovered a similar plastic stew in the Atlantic.
Goddard said that in spite of some initial fears that her village’s ban would have negative economic impacts on retailers, reaction in Rye since the ordinance took effect has been “anticlimactic,” a fact that she attributes to extensive outreach and education efforts by the council. “Honestly,” she said, “it’s as if nothing really happened.”
She pointed out that bag bans have been passed in diverse communities nationwide, from small upper-middle class towns to working class communities, such as Brownsville, Texas and Bellingham, Washington. Of all the merchants she has talked to in these communities, she said, “Not one has said they suffered financially.”
“Ironically when plastic bags were first introduced, people complained,” she said. “They said that the bags ripped, and didn’t hold their shape.” Shop owners innovated by double bagging. “Now,” she said, “it’s time for us to innovate for the environment.”
With a final decision by Irvington’s Planning Board fast approaching on whether to recommend rezoning the property at 30 South Broadway, Continuum, the firm applying to build an assisted living facility on the site, is submitting its last, best offer in an attempt to win approval from at least three of the board’s five members.
The new plan, obtained by the Hudson Independent and expected to be presented to the board at its May 1 meeting, removes the third floor along the south side of the main building—a direct response to a concern about mass raised by Planning Board Chair William Hoffman. With the rest of the board apparently split evenly for and against approval, Hoffman’s vote could prove decisive.
Other changes in the plan, including placement of parking spaces and driveways, shifting the Memory Care facility 30 feet to the south, and a repositioning of the main building south and west away from Broadway, have been previously submitted.
By chopping off the third floor along the south side of the main building and replacing it with a “green” roof, Continuum’s architects hope to reduce the sense of mass as it would be seen from the main intersection of Broadway, Station and Harriman Roads, approaching Irvington from the south. Chairman Hoffman has repeatedly mentioned the facility’s mass as a point of concern. But such a reduction in mass would also lower the number of beds from 168 down to 146, which would in turn reduce potential income.
Other issues raised by Irvington residents remain unresolved—notably how medical emergencies will be handled. The volunteer ambulance corps, IVAC says it would not be able to handle the additional calls the facility would inevitably bring. Continuum is currently considering hiring a private EMT service to take its calls, which would also be filtered through a staff nurse on call 24/7. It is possible that the Planning Board will decide before those issues are resolved, leaving it to the Village Trustees to address, should they choose to proceed.
Visit the Tarrytown Fire Department headquarters at 50 Main Street mid-afternoon, almost any weekday, and there is a good chance you’ll find Gerry Barbelet and Ed Dalton in-residence. Their connection with the Department’s Conqueror Hook & Ladder Company goes back a half century, and neither shows any signs of ending that attachment, or their even longer friendship.
Barbelet and Dalton recently received gold badges from the Hook and Ladder Company for 50 years of service that began for both soon after they graduated from high school where they were friends. In the early 1960’s, Dalton’s father, Charles, who became a firefighter soon after WWII, and was to remain one for almost 50 years, was recruiting volunteers.
“I joined when I was 18,” Dalton said, adding his year-older brother had also become a member at that age. His brother-in-law followed, and “it was just like a family deal,” Dalton explained. His 51 years of service puts him one up on his friend, Gerry, he chuckled.
“It was in the natural order of things, that I joined too, along with a whole bunch of other guys,” Barbelet said. “There was a public service aspect to it.” There were other reasons as well, according to Barbelet. “In the late 50’s and early 60’s, when you were 18 years of age, in Tarrytown, there really wasn’t much to do. As a lot of friends joined. It seemed to be the good thing to do.”
Both men recall that when they became members, the fire department shared quarters nearby with the police department in what is now the Masonic building at 54 Main Street. The firemen moved into their current corner building in 1964.
The past five decades have seen important differences in firefighting, with technology and procedures playing a major part in the changes, according to both men. “Fifty years ago, about all you had were hoses, axes and a minimum of tools,” Barbelet recalled. “Nowadays you have all kinds of sophisticated stuff; breathing apparatus that must be worn, and so on.”
“We never thought twice about just putting a coat on and going into a building, whereas today you have to have safety officers, you have to be fully equipped, and properly clothed,” Dalton explained. “It was much looser in past years, but it is a lot safer now than it used to be. We are very fortunate that we never had any fatalities with members at actual fires.”
Dalton and Barbelet still answer fire calls, but age has played a part in the way they participate now in their volunteer firefighting. “I don’t rush into burning buildings anymore, “ Barbelet said. “I usually stay by the truck and do what I can to help out the younger guys.”
Currently President of Hook and Ladder, Barbelet has held many posts with the fire department, including captain, first and second lieutenant. Over the years, Dalton had similar responsibilities. “I’ve held all the positions there are in our company,” he said. Two years in the Army, with a year in Vietnam, interrupted Dalton’s service as a volunteer fireman. “About five members of our fire company served in the military at the same time,” Dalton said. “Another member, Gene Savage, and I ended up in Vietnam. We all made it back and they had a big party for us.”
Many Tarrytown residents have known Barbelet not only as a volunteer fireman, but as Village Treasurer, a post he held for 37 years, until 2001. A native of Tarrytown, he attended Pace University, and has been married to Maureen Barbelet for 37 years. Formerly, a member of the Board of Education, and active in the community, Maureen was Grand Marshall of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2011. The oldest of their three sons served as a firefighter for 20 years. Another is a retired policeman, while one is still a police officer with the village.
Dalton, soon to be 70, was born in the Bronx, but his parents moved to Tarrytown when he was two years old. He met his wife, Lyn Dalton, whom he described as “a wonderful woman,” when both were in high school. Lyn is a retired school teacher. Dalton retired following 42 years working as an electrician with New York’s Local 3, IBEW. The couple have three children, all in their 40’s. One daughter’s family with two children lives in Newtown, Connecticut, where, Dalton said, they were fortunately unscathed in the recent school shooting tragedy. They also have a single daughter, as well as a married son with two children in Florida.
Speaking about his years in the fire department, Dalton said, “Our generation was all into doing something we enjoyed doing, and we felt very rewarded knowing that we were helping the community, helping people.”
“Some of the best moments of my life have been spent with members of the Hook and Ladder,” Barbelet recounted. “Being a fireman develops special relationships. There are not many things like that anymore. “It has been a fine 50.”