Topsham selectmen put bag fee, foam container ban on ballot

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TOPSHAM — Voters on Election Day will decide whether to enact ordinances that would impose a 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and ban the use of polystyrene foam containers.

Following a successful citizen petition drive, the Board of Selectmen on Sept. 15 unanimously placed the two questions on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The Bring Your Own Bag Midcoast group has brought attention to both issues in Brunswick and Topsham. The group advocates a nickel fee on “single-use, carry-out plastic and paper bags at all retail stores,” like grocery and convenience stores, and pharmacies where food comprises more than 2 percent of gross sales.

Foam containers provided for beverages or food at restaurants, stores or other shops would be prohibited under the second ordinance.

Both product types frequently end up as litter, according to the group’s website, Bags are recycled at a low rate in Maine, while foam containers are not recycled at all, and there are alternatives at competitive costs, the group says.

“We are grateful for the support we received that made it possible for us to quickly gather adequate signatures on our petitions,” BYOB members Lynne and Edward Caswell of Cleave Street said in a joint statement Monday. “We encourage our fellow Topsham citizens to support these ordinances.”

BYOB submitted petitions between Aug. 9-25, and the town certified 596 signatures for the bag fee and 605 on the Styrofoam ban, according to Town Clerk Linda Dumont.

The group had to gather at least 505 signatures, or 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election, and submit the petitions by Sept. 26

Having held workshops with BYOB, and discussed the matter at an official meeting for the first time July 7, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to take no action on a foam ban, allowing BYOB to petition for the question to be placed on November’s ballot.

The panel had also voted 4-1, with David Douglass opposed, to have staff modify a draft ordinance and bring it back to the board for a public hearing, “with a thought of putting it on the November ballot,” according to Town Manager Rich Roedner.

But selectmen voted 3-0 at their next meeting, July 21, to table the ordinance and let BYOB pursue a petition. Douglass, one of the three selectmen in attendance, said the issue should be settled by the Legislature, rather than with varying rules in each municipality, Roedner said.

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 will take effect next month in Brunswick.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.