Public to be heard before Falmouth drafts bag ban

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council Monday decided more public input is needed before it considers recommendations for banning single-use disposable bags.

The town is aiming for an ordinance to take effect Jan. 1, 2016.

The council on Monday also took a step toward developing one or more large solar arrays on town property.

The Recycling and Energy Advisory Committee is proposing a two-year phase-in that would ultimately result in a ban on single-use plastic bags.

The first year would include a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic bags at stores with a footprint of 10,000 square feet or more. That would include the town’s six largest retailers: Hannaford Supermarket, Shaw’s Supermarket, Wal-Mart, Rite Aid, Staples and Goodwill.

An outright ban on all single-use shopping bags, with an optional fee for paper bags, would take effect the next year.

The committee also proposed exemptions to these rules, including bags for meat, produce, deli food and dry-cleaned clothes; bags for leaky food, such as take-out food, and bags to prevent damage or contamination from other items. People in the food assistance community would be exempt from the fee.

REAC member Cathy Nichols said the phase-in period will allow stores to use their current inventory of single-use bags, and allow time for education and outreach. She said the 5-cent fee in the first year will match the town with Portland, which enacted an ordinance in April.

Some councilors initially wanted ordinance language crafted in advance of a public forum, which will be at the council’s next meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16. Councilor Karen Farber said it would be better to come before the public “with an already articulated ordinance” or set of questions.

“The best of all worlds is to present something pretty well crafted,” she said.

But Vice Chairman Russell Anderson, who is on the ordinance committee, said there has to be more opportunity for public comment before an ordinance is crafted. He said there are people on both sides of the argument.

“I feel there needs to be extensive opportunity for public input,” Anderson said.

He proposed a two-step process for public input, first at the next meeting with the same presentation councilors received, and the second with a fully crafted ordinance, “so we’re not railroading the process.”

“The ordinance committee needs to hear from the public before drafting anything,” Anderson said.

Councilor Charlie McBrady said “not having public comment is the wrong thing to do.”

Councilors ultimately agreed on Anderson’s two-part suggestion to hear public input before an ordinance is drafted.

“(The public) may weigh in in a way we’re not expecting,” Chairman David Goldberg said.

Solar panels

Town Manager Nathan Poore said he and staff have been investigating renewable energy options for the town for over a year, and with federal tax credits for such projects set to expire at the end of 2016, it is time “to step it up and explore options.”

Poore said they have looked into setting up solar arrays on the roof of Town Hall at 271 Falmouth Road, and at the landfill on Woods Road. Poore said the town hired the Woodard & Curran  engineering firm to provide information about feasibility.

Because towns and municipalities are not eligible to receive such tax credits, Falmouth would have to partner with private third-party investors who would lease the arrays. To do this, Poore said the town would need more legal expertise, and recommended appointing Ben Lund from Brann & Isaacson as town attorney on this project.

“We’ve done as much picking around the edges (as we can),” Poore said. “We will have to take bigger steps to see a reduction.”

The council voted 6-0 to do this, with Councilor Ned Kitchel absent.

“We should think big,” Anderson said. “You don’t have to go far before you see large solar array farms.”

In other business, the council scheduled an order for another extension of the Tidewater Master Plan Development District.

Councilors previously granted Tidewater LLC a six-month extension to early October. Tidewater was not able to submit necessary documents for council consideration before the expiration date, and thus requested another extension until April 11, 2016.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Falmouth Town Hall

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or