As the owner of Freitas Package Store in the South End of New Bedford, I’m reaching out in response to Jack Spillane’s recent column on the nip ban. I am hoping we can further explore the issue and include more information that has not been discussed publicly yet.

While it is true that littering, including nip bottles, has become out of control in the city, that is not a local problem. We are also seeing low numbers statewide for recycling. To describe this fairly, we should be waging a war on litter, not just a ban on nips.

I personally spoke to the mayor, and I agree with many of the points he has made. However, I do not agree with his solution, at this time. Banning products today has become too easy and a sign of desperation or giving up. That is what the mayor is saying before all the facts are in.

This should only be done after engaging the community — the residents, the businesses, the City Council, the mayor’s office, all at the same table to find out if we have any choices before a ban should be implemented.

This is a very complicated issue and can only be solved if the constituents agree, and they feel like the process is fair. Environmental groups may have no regard for the economic impact. Likewise, businesses may care more about the financial impact and less about the environment.

There is another component that has not been talked about. Do we have options to control littering beyond nips? Do we want to depend on the state to do something? Can we get help from industry to address some of the trash issues in the city? Can we impose a fee directly to retailers?

Other communities in the state have started down this path. Another point is that if this passes, it is non-reviewable. It cannot be overturned by anyone other than the board.

Everyone in the city knows that the Licensing Board does not operate in a vacuum. The Licensing Board does not and has not taken up this issue on its own. This proposal comes directly from the mayor’s office. And in our conversations, he does not dispute that he said this needs to happen because litter is out of control, and the vagrancy problem in New Bedford must be addressed.

I don’t think it’s clearly understood what drives the bulk of sales and dollars for nips in the city of New Bedford. Our volume of sales is mainly driven by the working class — contractors, landscapers, painters, fisherman … the true working class.

How and where this started is also a component of this issue. In other cities and towns, petitions were started either by environmental groups, citizens or by the City Council. In no city in Massachusetts was it generated from City Hall in the mayor’s office.

Currently stores around the city have gathered more than 2,000 signatures of residents, who are not in favor of the nip ban — not because they don’t think pollution is an issue, but because their right is being taken away without a fair democratic process.

If this process goes through on Monday night, and the board implements a ban, which many think is already baked into the cake, this will have serious implications for everyone in the city of New Bedford — the residents who feel their choice was taken away and the businesses who will see customers leave our city to shop surrounding communities.

All we are asking for, as businesses in the city, is to have a seat at the table to further this discussion and see if we have options. Not to hang our hat on a bottle bill; not to think that the litter can be cleaned up overnight; but to have a seat at the table to see if there are opportunities for the city before we implement a ban such as this.

The outreach has not happened. Doing so in the manner it has been done is the City Hall saying we’re doing this on our own, and I don’t care what all of the residents of New Bedford think. The right outcome on Monday is for the board to recognize that we have not exhausted all opportunities. This discussion should be tabled, and a committee should be assembled at the Licensing Board’s request that includes the Licensing Board, The City Council, the mayor’s office, members of the community, businesses owners and environmental interests.

No matter what happens, someone will be disappointed. What we want is to make sure all sides have been heard, and all the other sides understand  everyone else’s position. Have we exhausted every possible option? That would be a true sign of leadership to do what is best today, tomorrow and into the future for the City of New Bedford.

Mark Riley of Mattapoisett is the owner of Freitas Package Store on Cove Road in New Bedford.

Editor’s note: The New Bedford Licensing Board meets tonight (Monday, July 24) at 6 p.m., in the New Bedford Public Library.

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