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Ordinance Panel Digs Into Proposed Plastic Shopping Bag Ban



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The Legislative Council's Ordinance Committee began looking into a proposed local ban on plastic shopping bags during a meeting April 30.

During that meeting, committee members continued discussion on another environmental and public health related proposal to ban the possession, handling, or processing of drilling fracking waste in town.

The committee also initiated a review to determine the best way to resolve a language issue in the local Charter that created a conflict ahead of last November's local elections regarding the number of political party members who could be elected to the Board of Education.

The recently formed Newtown Environmental Action Group, which already boasts 18 members, is promoting the move for the ban on plastic shopping bags. A plastic bag ban was originally floated during the administration of First Selectman Pat Llodra, when an intern she was working with introduced the idea.

Action Group Chair Vanessa Villamil recently told The Newtown Bee that "Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down and we wanted to tackle that problem." She noted that a number of other Connecticut towns have done plastic bag bans successfully.

She and other group members have scripted a draft for the proposed ordinance. During the council committee meeting, Chairman Ryan Knapp explained that the suggested ordinance would ban all plastic check-out bags, and would fix a ten-cent charge for paper bags for local shoppers who did not have their own reusable bags.

The proposal suggests that seven of the ten cents charged for paper bags would go to the town for infrastructure and environmental projects. It would also waive that charge for anyone on food assistance or government assistance.

The former intern who first introduced the ban, John Board, now serves with the action group. During his time with Mrs Llodra, he took on a project researching how multiple municipalities across country successfully implemented similar plastic bag bans.

"This ordinance is very balanced, and we have reached out to major businesses, grocery stores, etc; this has been very much a collaborative," he said in a previous Newtown Bee report.

"The major thing we are trying to do is to get residents to change over to reusable bags."

He and the action group hope to see an ordinance in place by March 2019.

Enforcement Questions

One of the initial concerns ordinance committee members discussed was enforcement, which the panel assumed would fall on the Newtown Health District or another designee of the first selectman.

"We heard from Conservation Commission why we need this ordinance," Mr Knapp said. "But we should talk to Health District about what this will entail above and beyond their existing duties."

If enacted, suggested language imposes a series of graduating fines on local businesses found in violation of the ordinance, which would culminate in a $25 per day fine if the business surpasses three initial violations.

Committee member Jay Mattegat, a local small business owner who said he occasionally uses shopping bags for customer purchases, expressed concerns over the comparative costs to purchase paper bags. He said approximately two million plastic bags are consumed in Newtown annually.

He then cited a 2007 news report that fixed a five- to seven-cent per bag cost for paper bags, which he assumed was markedly higher today. Pointing out something of an environmental catch-22, Mr Mattegat said that according to the New York Times, it requires four times as much energy consumption to manufacture paper bags, "and significantly more to recycle them."

Council Chairman Paul Lundquist, who attended the meeting, responded saying, "The real nugget here is removing plastic from the chain."

Mr Mattegat said as a business owner, he would have a constitutional right to ignore such a local ordinance.

Mr Knapp said he would like to know which local retailers would be affected.

"We shouldn't blindside retailers with this ordinance if we want to be a business-friendly community," he added.

Mr Lundquist suggested making cooperation voluntary for a period before enforcing the ordinance. Councilman Chris Eide affirmed that Westport has maintained a similar band since 2008.

"It hasn't been overturned, and they have a $150 fine [for violations]," he said. Council member Jordana Bloom said if an ordinance is initiated, more consumers may begin choosing more environmentally friendly alternatives.

She added that during her family's residence in several other countries, including China and Spain, she saw no plastic bags available.

"Most shoppers used recyclable shopping bags," she said. "If they can do it..."

Mr Knapp concluded deliberation on the issue for the night saying the committee could "debate the public good in the future." In the meantime, he advised his colleagues, "let's work through the process first. We need to research, work through language, and have a legal review, talk to [Town Finance Director Robert] Tait about creating a fund [for the paper bag charges], as well as taking a look at what other communities are doing."

Council member Judit DeStefano agreed to serve as the point person carrying the proposal forward at the committee level.

BOE Ballot Conflict

Ordinance committee members on April 30 also took up an issue that nearly forced the removal of all the town Republican candidates for the Board of Education last November because of a convoluted discrepancy between state ballot statutes and a Newtown Charter provision involving the minimum minority makeup of Newtown's school board.

During a complicated and protracted refining process to make Newtown's constitutional document more user-friendly, the last local Charter Revision Commission somehow deleted a very brief but important provision that would have otherwise allowed the GOP to run three school board candidates to fill two available Republican positions on the board.

That provision was initially written into the Charter following a 2008 revision that increased the number of seats on the school board from six to seven. Since the board went from an even to odd number, it dictated an election process alternating between offering four candidate options every other local election cycle, and three candidates during election cycles in between.

About five weeks before local polling, the Connecticut Secretary of the State's Office (SOTS) discovered the inconsistency during a final ballot review and initially said all three Republican school board candidates would face removal from the 2017 ballot.

Council Chairman Jeff Capeci learned at the time that the GOP could still qualify to have two school board candidates on the ballot, as long as a third contender was willing to withdraw.

That caused GOP candidate Deborah Zukowski to withdraw her name in order to ensure the two other candidates would remain on the ballot.

Flash forward to the April 30 meeting, where council members were charged with determining if the discrepancy could be corrected through an ordinance. If the SOTS ultimately permits that to occur, it would eliminate the need to rush into another charter revision that would exclusively convene to fix the existing language error.

Mr Eide agreed to head up a subcommittee to communicate with the state and begin the process of rectifying the issue before candidates for the 2019 local elections are chosen early next summer.

Fracking Waste

In the committee's final matter, members determined that there was no apparent down side to adopting a fracking waste ban similar to what is already in effect or being considered in around 40 other Connecticut communities.

During discussion, Mr Knapp said he believed an overarching state ban that was proposed by state senators, including Senator Tony Hwang who represents Newtown, was apparently tabled and would likely not see any action in the 2018 legislative session.

Mr Eide and Mr Lundquist both indicated they had further questions about the proposal, and so the ordinance committee opted to not make a recommendation to the full council coming out of their meeting.

According to a December notice from the state Office of Legislative Research, Connecticut currently has a state-level moratorium on certain activities associated with fracking waste (CGS§ 22a-472). The moratorium lasts until the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) adopts regulations to, among other things, control fracking waste as a hazardous waste.

The law requires DEEP to submit regulations to the legislature's Regulations Review Committee between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018. DEEP may, under certain conditions, choose not to adopt the regulations, in which case the moratorium would remain in force.

Under the law, the moratorium is on any person accepting, receiving, collecting, storing, treating, disposing of, or transferring between vehicles or modes of transportation any fracking waste.

The law also:

*Requires DEEP to collect fracking waste product information;

*Requires anyone transporting fracking waste in Connecticut after the regulations are adopted to obtain a DEEP permit, and;

*Exempts certain research on small amounts of fracking waste from the moratorium.

Globally, five trillion plastic bags are produced annually. And Newtown consumers use approximately two million according to information provided to the Legislative Council's Ordinance Committee, which met April 30 to begin discussions on a possible plastic bag ban in town. - EPA photo
Communities across the state like Greenwich and Westport, and across the country from Beverly Hills to Dubuque, Iowa are, or will be posting signs like these to remind residents about plastic bag bans similar to one being considered by the Newtown Legislative Council's Ordinance Committee.
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