Freeport voters to decide in June on plastic bag ban at food stores

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FREEPORT — The Town Council on Tuesday put a proposal on the June 14 ballot to ban some plastic shopping bags and enact a 5-cent fee on paper bags.

The vote came after a petition was submitted by residents that demands tighter limits on the single-use, carryout bags than those proposed by councilors.

The ban would apply only to businesses that sell food or groceries: supermarkets and grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores, etc. It would not apply to restaurants, clothing stores, or any business where food sales are incidental and less than 2 percent of gross sales.

Money collected from the paper bag fee would be retained by the businesses. Violators of the ordinance, which would take effect Sept. 12, will be subject to fines up to $250 for a first offense in one year, and up to $500 per day for subsequent offenses in the same year.

The 15 people who spoke at the May 17 public hearing were all in favor of the proposed ordinance. The council unanimously approved putting the question on the ballot as a binding referendum. 

Among those who spoke Tuesday night were Elly Bengtsson and Meredith Broderick, the Freeport High School alumni who were seniors when they first proposed the ban in July 2014. The two, home from college, said the ban would be good for the town.

“I think Freeport’s reputation can improve by implementing a fee or ban,” Broderick said. “I think this can be part of Freeport’s brand.”

Other residents agreed, including the creator of the petition, John Egan.

“We could be the first town in Cumberland County to ban plastic bags, and I think that’d be a good leadership move,” he said.

Other southern Maine towns and cities, including Falmouth, Portland and South Portland, have implemented 5-cent fees on plastic and paper bags.

The Town Clerk verified 664 signatures on the petition, but Egan said the group of more than 30 volunteers who circulated it gathered 860 signatures. To be approved, 10 percent of the town’s registered voters, or 650 people, had to sign the petition.

The council’s ordinance committee originally wrote a proposal with language calling for fees on plastic and paper bags, which was expected to go to a nonbinding referendum in June. Councilors on May 3 decided not to move forward with the ordinance committee’s recommendation.

In January there was discussion about both proposals being on the June 14 ballot, but councilors decided against that move earlier this month. They had also talked about the possibility of approving the ban themselves, but on Tuesday decided it should be the voters’ decision.

Council Chairwoman Melanie Sachs said she’s been impressed by the work it took to get the ordinance proposal to this point.

“This is one of the best examples I’ve seen while on the council of public process,” she said.

After the meeting Bengtsson and Broderick said they were surprised the process has taken two years, but they’re happy it’s now coming to a decision.

“It’s really rewarding to come back and see this,” Broderick said. “It’s like a book we opened a long time ago and we’re finally getting to the end of it.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Freeport Town Hall

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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.