After many months of sometimes very heated debate, the Newport Task Force on banning plastic shopping bags has failed to convince a majority of the Newport City Council to ban them and have shoppers use reusable bags. After hearing a report that a barely discernible majority of the task force wanted to see plastic bags phased out of Newport grocery stores, the council balked and voted to send the issue to the voters in May. In May the voters will be asked whether plastic bags should be banned and a fee be placed even on paper shopping bags.
Bag ban advocate Charlie Plybon of The Surfrider Foundation implored the council to do what over sixty cities in the U.S. country have already done – ban the bag which he says clogs our landfills, our dumpsters, litters the landscape, both private and public and clogs our storm drains. 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.
There were many rounds of debate centering on whether public education to encourage recycling would turn the tables on the bag. But it was quickly maintained by those advocating a ban, that such an open ended activity would be ineffective; that education without an eventual ban is a hallow lesson.
In the end, a majority of the council decided to put the whole thing on the May ballot. Supporters of a May vote like councilors David Allen and Dean Sawyer said that the task force may have been a bit too split to qualify as truly representing an accurate cross-section of the community. At first, the motion was to adopt an ordinance from Corvallis that bans plastic bags and slaps a fee on paper bags. It went down 4 to 3, with Mayor McConnell, Councilor Roumagoux and Councilor Brusselback voting for the ban, and councilors Allen, Beemer, Bertuleit and Sawyer voting no.
Councilor Roumagoux said “The council is elected to lead. We just need to do the right thing, here.” Councilor Bertuleit said “We should tell the grocery stores to charge a fee on plastic bags, coupled with public education.” Councilor Sawyer said he gets conflicting preferences from the people he talks to around town and that a public vote on the issue is the way to go. Councilor David Allen announced he was opposed to the ban and offered many theoretical options short of a ban.
In the end they put it to a vote of Newport residents. The vote was an identical 4-3 in favor (Roumagoux, McConnell and Brusselback against).
The recently passed Corvallis bag-ban ordinance will be used as a template that councilors will use as a basis for discussion before putting it on the ballot. It may be word for word with “Newport” replacing the word “Corvallis” in the ordinance, or it be modified in a way that better fits Newport’s circumstances. They didn’t elaborate on what that might be.
A few task force members stormed out of the council chambers – a couple offering obscenities as they left the room, saying they felt betrayed despite all their hard work.
The council said that the Corvallis ordinance will be brought before the council in the near future, in plenty of time to get a ban on single use plastic bags on the May Ballot.