TOPSHAM — Voters on Tuesday approved ordinances to impose a 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and ban the use of polystyrene foam containers.
The bag-fee vote was 3,062 to 2,876, and the foam ban passed 3,928 to 1,989.
The town also re-elected incumbent Selectmen Marie Brillant, who received 3,486 votes, and Bill Thompson, with 1,939. John Graham, a member of the Historic District Committee who also ran for the two open board seats, finished third in the three-way race with 1,828 votes.
Holly Kopp, who has served two, three-year terms as a Topsham representative to the School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors, was the only person running for that position on the Election Day ballot. She received 4,500 votes.
Turnout was 81.2 percent of a total 7,448 registered voters. The selectmen’s race included 4,847 blanks and the SAD 75 vote had 1,500.
A successful citizen petition drive put the bag fee and foam container bans on Tuesday’s ballot.
The Bring Your Own Bag Midcoast group has raised awareness of both issues in Topsham and Brunswick. The group advocates a nickel fee on “single-use, carry-out plastic and paper bags at all retail stores” – grocery and convenience stores, and pharmacies where food makes up more than 2 percent of gross sales.
The second ordinance will ban foam containers that are provided for beverages or food at restaurants, stores or other shops.
Both products often end up as litter, the group claims. Bags are recycled at a low rate in Maine, while foam containers are not recycled at all, the group states, noting that there are alternatives at competitive costs.
“The small Topsham group that worked to put these environmental issues – single-use bags and Styrofoam – on the ballot is grateful for the support of Topsham’s voters,” BYOB members Lynne and Edward Caswell said in a joint statement Wednesday. “Our members worked tirelessly to inform our community about the issues involved and we thank them for their efforts!”
Although BYOB wanted town officials to take action on both matters, the Board of Selectmen ultimately opted not to. Selectman David Douglass said the issues should be settled statewide by the Legislature, as opposed to being decided individually by municipalities.
As a result of the Topsham board taking no action, BYOB began circulating petitions to put both questions on the November ballot. The Topsham clerk’s office in August certified 596 signatures for the bag fee and 605 on the Styrofoam ban.
The group had to gather at least 505 signatures – 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election – and submit the petitions by Sept. 26.
Although BYOB had wanted to take the matters to Town Meeting, Douglass said in an interview Wednesday that he had preferred they go to this year’s presidential election, where a large turnout – and strong representation of the wishes of residents – was expected.
“My personal opinion (on the issues) hasn’t changed,” he said, noting that as one goes through Topsham Fair Mall, a bag fee at Hannaford – which triggers the 2 percent food sales threshold – would be in effect, while one at Dick’s Sporting Goods would not.
“Same bags causing the same problems, why is that,” Douglass asked.
Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, Freeport, York and Kennebunk already regulate single-use bags. Portland, South Portland and Freeport have banned foam food containers, and a ban took effect last month in Brunswick.
Brillant, elected to the board in 2010, could not be reached Wednesday morning for comment. She is a cook at Mt. Ararat Middle School and serves on the Topsham Fair board of directors and is involved with the Merrymeeting Employees Association.
“Thank you to all who put their faith in me,” Thompson, elected in 2013, said Wednesday. “I will work to continue to move the town forward while keeping the taxpayer first and foremost.”
Thompson, an analyst at Bath Iron Works, retired from the U.S. Navy in 2007 after 24 years, having served 11 of those years in commands at Brunswick Naval Air Station.
He was secretary of Topsham’s Finance Committee, on which he served from 2009-13, stepping down after he was elected to the Board of Selectmen.
Graham, who has been a member of the town’s Historic District Committee since 2014, said in an interview Wednesday that “I’m happy; I wish we’d stretched a little bit, but with a new baby and not much time, and the new name in town, I was pretty impressed with the amount of votes we got.”