Updated 11-9 – Councilor Dean Sawyer clarification (see below)
Updated 12:06pm Tuesday (in bold)
After long discussions of why single-use plastic bags are bad for the environment, for wildlife and landfills and debate over whether enough public input had been gathered on the issue, the Newport City Council couldn’t decide whether to even begin writing a law to ban the bags in Newport. Councilors reversed an earlier course that suggested that plastic bags would be banned in Newport but not before more public input was given. They got more public input Monday night (almost all of it in favor of a ban), but, in the eyes of some councilors, it still wasn’t enough. Councilor David Allen insisted on putting the issue to a public vote but appeared satisfied to be charged with bringing a proposal back to the council in December that examines at least three options: whether an advisory public vote should go forward, if a draft ordinance should go forward, or if the council should go forward only to the extent that it involves more public input.
Councilor Dean Sawyer repeatedly expressed his concern for the poor who can’t afford re-useable bags and that the the owner of JC Markets had expressed to him his opposition to a ban. Sawyer clarified his statement to News Lincoln County Wednesday saying JC Markets don’t outright oppose a ban on plastic bags but that they do have concerns about the banning of plastic bags from the point of view of food safety. Sawyer said JC Market is concerned about customers reusing the same cloth back repeatedly with the chance of food born bacteria accumulating in cloth bags. Sawyer also said that while he would be prepared to vote for a ban, he was concerned that the council was going down the road too fast – that it had violated a promise to the public that councilors would make their decision only after a careful thoughtful approach.
In a brief exchange between Mayor Mark McConnell and Councilor David Allen, Allen said he would come back with a proposal that they can talk about during their only council meeting in December. McConnell quipped back, “It may not matter because these people (referencing the audience) are going to go out and put a voter initiative on the ballot to ban plastic bags. They’re not going to consult us.”
Tuesday morning “Ban the Bag” advocacy group Surfrider Foundation’s Charlie Plybon said the council’s 4 to 3 vote to to rescind its endorsement of a ban “is a slap in the face of many people who have invested hundreds of hours either testifying before the city and eliciting support from the community including local businesses.” Plybon said “The weight of public involvement has been cancelled by allegations (via letters and email) that there has been a wave of support to continue having plastic bags being used in the community. Surfrider is putting in a public records request to determine who these opponents are, what they actually said and in what number.”
NewsLincolnCounty.com asked Plybon if Surfrider would resort, as hinted by Mayor McConnell Monday night, that he expects Surfrider to do an end-run around the council via a voter initiative to ban plastic bags. Plybon declined to speculate on a voter initiative saying only that “the initiative process is always available.”