TOPSHAM

A group of local residents hoping to get bag and Styrofoam ordinances on the November ballot were disappointed Thursday when the board of selectmen declined to move forward with one and sent the other to town staff for review.

One ordinance would ban Styrofoam food and beverage packaging, while the other would place a 5-cent fee on single-use bags given to customers at checkout.

Bring Your Own Bag Midcoast, a group of about 17 Topsham and Brunswick residents, brought the ordinances to the board, met in workshops with the board and hoped Thursday the board would agree to put the ordinances to a vote in November. The ordinances are similar to those passed in Portland, South Portland and the Styrofoam ban passed in Brunswick.

The meeting room was full Thursday and several residents spoke about the harm plastics in the oceans and environment are causing.

Jim Wellehan of Lamey Wellehan, which has a shoe store in the Topsham Fair Mall, also championed the bag ordinance. He said there are gyres of accumulated plastic in every ocean, some as small as Texas and others the size of the U.S.

Wellehan said his company was able to save $12,000 a year on bags and add three scholarships to its college scholarship program when it stopped using plastic bags.

Diane Schetky of Topsham and BYOB said plastics never go away as they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Whether in landfills or the ocean, they leach and absorb toxins. The pollutants get into fish eating those micro plastic pieces. Plastics can kill birds and threaten the shellfish industry.

The problem with stores trying to recycle plastic bags is that there is no market for them, Schetky said, and they are sent to China where they are burned, releasing toxins into the air.

Selectman David Douglass asked Schetky why the proposed bag ordinance doesn’t apply to all stores in town rather than just food stores.

“I think we have to start this small,” she said, and Topsham residents can decide if they want to embrace and expand the scope of the ordinance.

Curtis Picard of Topsham, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine, said consistency among the bag ordinances is important to create a level playing field and he argued the issue should be addressed at a statewide level.

Rep. Denise Tepler, D-Topsham, said she understands Picard’s argument. However, complex political issues taking place in Augusta have prevented such legislation.

“I do feel that local communities need to put this before their voters if it comes up, and allow them to decide whether or not this is important to them,” Tepler said. “And if enough communities decide that it is important … this will put pressure at the state level for creating a statewide law about bags and Styrofoam.”

Selectman Roland Tufts made a motion directing staff to work with BYOB to address concerns raised Thursday and broaden the bag ordinance to include other stores. The motion was approved 4-1 with Douglass opposed.

Douglass said he didn’t disagree with any of the comments made Thursday but does feel the bag ordinance should apply to all stores or none. He also voiced concern about sending proposals from outside interest groups to voters. There is a petition process that allows such groups to put ordinances before voters, he said.

On the same principle, Douglass made a motion not to move forward with the proposed polystyrene foam ban ordinance, which passed 4-1 with Selectwoman Marie Brillant opposed.

Marcia Harrington of BYOB Midcoast said she was disappointed that selectmen didn’t vote Thursday to put the ordinances before voters, but the group will work with the town on the bag ordinance. The group thought the board was more likely to put the less controversial Styrofoam ban on the November ballot.

Harrington said BYOB will meet Sunday and she thinks it is likely members will decide to circulate a petition aimed to get the Styrofoam ban on the November ballot.

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Do what …

ONE ORDINANCE would ban Styrofoam food and beverage packaging, while the other would place a 5-cent fee on single-use bags given to customers at checkout.

THE ORDINANCES are similar to those passed in Portland, South Portland and the Styrofoam ban passed in Brunswick.



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