Freeport may have dueling votes on bag ban, fee

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FREEPORT — The ordinance committee Tuesday decided to send a proposed 5-cent fee on plastic and paper shopping bags to voters in a nonbinding June referendum.

But a group of residents is also working on a petition to place a binding referendum on the ballot to ban single-use bags.

The committee’s decision followed the Town Council’s Oct. 20, 2015, vote to have the proposal go to voters as an advisory question.

According to Josh Olins, chairman of the town’s Recycling/Solid Waste Committee, a group of about 10 people has been meeting and making plans to start a petition. Olins, who said he is not affiliated with the group or the petition, said the document has not yet been created.

Councilor Sarah Tracy, chairwoman of the ordinance committee, said she has heard about the petition, but there are no plans to take any formal action unless it is officially presented to the town.

“I have heard rumors of a citizens’ referendum on a single-use bag ordinance, but I have not heard of or seen anything concrete,” Tracy said in an email. “I don’t see much value in spending a lot of time on it until we know it is going to happen.”

The ordinance committee, which also includes Councilors Melanie Sachs and Bill Rixon, considered scheduling the non-binding vote in November, when there would be greater voter turnout because of the presidential election, but ultimately decided not to prolong the issue.

“I feel that we should act sooner rather than later,” Rixon said. “There’s a cost in waiting.”

The next step for the committee is to develop the ordinance language. Members decided the fee would “be loosely modeled” on the one adopted in Portland, which went into effect in April 2015, and on the one adopted in Falmouth Monday night, which will go into effect this April.

Tracy, who is the longest-standing member of ordinance committee, will draft an ordinance before the panel’s next meeting. She said she will use Portland’s ordinance as a base and add some things from the Falmouth ordinance, as well as ideas from her discussions with Sachs and Rixon.

The committee said its goal is to have the language complete by the end of February. Members said they want the Recycling/Solid Waste Committee to review the proposal, and it will then be sent to the full Town Council for approval. The committee said it plans to submit a request to have the town place the referendum on the June ballot by April 1.

The town first began exploring a ban or fee on single-use bags in July 2014, when two high school students asked councilors to look into the issue and write an ordinance. The students said they thought the ordinance would help protect the environment.

According to Olins, the group working on the petition wants a ban on single-use bags instead of a fee.

Deputy Town Clerk Mary Howe said if the group is going to create a petition, it needs to request forms from the Town Council. Once approved, they would have 30 days to submit the required 646 signatures, or 10 percent of the town’s registered voters.

Larry Grard of Sun Media Wire contributed to this report. Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Freeport Town Manager Peter Joseph, left, and ordinance committee members Councilors Melanie Sachs, Sarah Tracy and Bill Rixon.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.