NEWPORT, Oregon, May 28, 2013 (ENS) - Voters in the Oregon coast city of Newport have defeated a ballot measure that would have forbidden retail stores to distribute single-use plastic bags and required them to charge a fee for paper bags.
The Paper & Plastic Bag Use Regulation measure was narrowly defeated on the May 21 election ballot in Lincoln County.
The issue has been contentious since last year in Newport, Oregon's premier port city. The city of roughly 10,000 people is now growing quickly, with the stationing of a research fleet here by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a new wave energy test facility approved for offshore waters.
In 2011, the Newport City Council had voted 5-2 to implement a bag ban but reversed itself a few weeks later and formed a task force to study the matter.
The issue was placed on the ballot after the council-appointed Plastic Bag Community Plan Task Force failed to convince a majority of Newport City Council members to ban the single-use plastic bags and encourage shoppers to use reusable bags.
Matt Hawkyard, chair of the Newport Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and chair of the Task Force, reminded Council at its January 22 meeting that this issue has been vetted through a long process.
He said the local Surfrider Foundation had provided hundreds of signatures opposed to plastic bags and reminded council members there were six months of Task Force meetings where the Task Force listened to, and voted on, a range of different options.
Bag ban advocate Charlie Plybon of The Surfrider Foundation implored the council to do what more than 60 cities in the United States have already done - ban the bags. He said the plastic bags clog landfills and storm drains and litter the landscape and the ocean.
Plybon and others on the task force told the council that plastic bags are also deadly for wildlife. Plybon said even China bans single use plastic bags.
The Oregon League of Conservation Voters weighed in on the side of the bag ban, saying, "We depend on our bay and natural resources for millions of dollars in local jobs, tourism, and commercial and recreational fishing - all these resources are threatened by plastic bags. We need to protect our local businesses and economy. Plastic bags deface our beautiful scenery - one of our most important assets - and can cause harm to wildlife, fisheries and the businesses that depend on them."
But merchants like Peggy Sabanskas, owner of an antique mall in Newport, and a member of the Task Force, told council members that she only orders bags once a year, and that order lasts for a year. She said it would take her a full year to use the bags she has on hand and research alternatives.
Task Force member LeOra Johnson, owner of Pelican Enterprises, a health and nutrition services company, argued that plastic bags are not going into the ocean. She said they are not single-use plastic bags; they are sustainable; and are recycled into a number of different products. She suggested using this time to show how to better use the plastic bags.
Other Newport residents opposed to the ban claimed that more than 90 percent of consumers reuse their plastic bags at least once.
Those opposed to the ban argue that plastic bags are convenient. They point out that reusable cloth or thick-walled plastic bags should be cleaned between shopping trips and when people do not clean them, they become a health hazard.
When the Task Force delivered its final report to the council, showing that only a slim majority favored a phase out of plastic bags in Newport grocery stores, those who favored a bag ban stormed out of the meeting in protest, vowing to place the issue on the ballot.
After two heated public hearings, the council declined to order a bag ban and instead sent the measure to the voters, who rejected it by 372 votes out of a voting population on the issue of 2,590.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.
Cover photo: NOAA Marine Operations Pacific. Courtesy moc.noaa.gov