2016-04-01 / Community

Bag ban bound for Kennebunk ballot box

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — A proposal to ban so-called “single-use” plastic shopping bags from stores in Kennebunk appears bound for the June ballot.

The measure will be the subject of a public hearing at the April 12 selectmen’s meeting. The board, which has expressed broad support for the ban, is expected to vote at that meeting to place the item on the June 14 town meeting warrant. A public hearing on the full warrant is scheduled for the April 26 selectmen’s meeting.

The idea was first raised in June 2015 by Bella Rossborough, a fourth-grader at Sea Road Elementary School. At the time, selectmen referred her to the town’s energy efficiency advisory committee, wishing her luck as it was noted the idea to ban plastic bags had been raised before in Kennebunk without success. But Rossborough attended every single committee meeting in hopes of seeing her idea through to fruition, and quickly won support for an ordinance proposal modeled on recent initiatives in Portland and South Portland.

Both cities now assess a 5-cent fee for plastic bags given by any business that does more than 2 percent of its gross business in food sales. At their Feb. 9 meeting selectmen entertained the committee proposal, referring it to their own ordinance subcommittee.

At those meetings, selectmen tooled their inspiration from the other direction, turning south to York, which has adopted a total ban on plastic shopping bags. Indeed, that’s what came back to the full board on March 9, with the fee meant to discourage use of plastic bags replaced with a full ban on all bags that have a thickness of less than 3 millimeters and also have an integral handle. In other words, trash bags, dry cleaning bags, sandwich bags and the bags used to wrap newspapers for delivery, among other types, would not be subject to the ban.

The final version of the ordinance reviewed by selectmen at their March 22 meeting contained one amendment, allowing them to make minor revisions in the future without a town meeting vote.

“This would give you a little bit of flexibility going forward in the future if you wanted to make some tweaking or amendments to this, where we wouldn’t have to send it back to the legislative body for approval,” Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said.

Some on the board, fully behind the ban, saw that as a potential opening to take it one step further.

“Does a little tweak include Styrofoam, or do you think that’s more than a tweak?” Selectman Richard Morin asked.

“I’ll have to confer with the attorney on that,” Tibbetts said. “But that might very well fall within the same purpose.”

“Well, I’m going to restate my frustration that didn’t go for the throat, and I think we should have,” Morin said. “If we’re going to take plastic bags out, we should take the Styrofoam out.” “I agree. I think that’s something that should come up before the board at a future point,” Chairman Kevin Donovan said. “And I don’t want to hear bellyaching from businesses about this affecting the bottom line. The bottom line is you’re either for this earth or you’re not. I don’t put a dollar on that. Period.”

Although a staunch environmentalist and the one who shepherded the subcommittee drive to a full ban, Selectman Shiloh Schulte said a Styrofoam ban may be a battle best left to another day.

“Something that affects more businesses and has more implications should I think be a separate ordinance,” he said.

Meanwhile, Selectman Ed Karytko, noting that he was speaking on behalf of concerned constituents, played devil’s advocate.

“I think we place an undo burden on some of these businesses, because paper bags are supposedly more expensive. And then you hear from different places that, well, plastic bags really aren’t as harmful [to the environment] as paper. So, I’m struggling with this. I really am.

“And it’s not a single use bag. You have no idea how much use I get out of these bags,” he said.

Karytko also questioned what authority selectmen have to tell businesses how to run their operations. But that is precisely why the issue is going to voters, Tibbetts said.

“If the town adopts an ordinance, then the board has the ability to enforce that ordinance, so that’s how that authority comes about,” Tibbetts said.

Still, Schulte held out the promise of future amendments in the form of exemptions from having to comply with the ban. That possibility was raised after Selectman Christopher Cluff noted that it might be hard to gain support from shops in Lower Village if their neighbors across the Lanigan Bridge in Kennebunkport’s Dock Square are freely bagging up sales in plastic bags. Tourists already have trouble distinguishing Dock Square and Lower Village as being in two separate towns, and so a bag ban on one side of the river might cause confusion, and consternation.

But Donovan seemed little impressed by that concern. He’d learned quickly when in the Army to bring his own bags to the PX, he said, suggesting tourists could do the same, if not content with paper bags, or the kind of tote sold and many shops in the area. Few tourists, he surmised, would be discouraged by the lack of a plastic bag to protect their goods as they roam from shop to shop.

“The bottom line is, we are, all of us, spoiled,” Donovan said. “We are a throwaway society. This is all stuff that’s cheap junk. Let’s face it, let’s call a spade a spade. It’s junk.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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