The Damariscotta Board of Selectmen decided to remove all mention of polystyrene foam containers from a draft single-use plastics ordinance after a public hearing Wednesday, Sept. 19.
The ordinance will go to a third public hearing Oct. 4.
The proposal to ban the distribution of single-use plastic carryout bags and polystyrene foam containers met with mixed reviews during the board’s second public hearing on the subject.
After the first public hearing Sept. 5, the selectmen decided to remove a 10-cent fee on paper bags and clarify some of the language in the ordinance.
“Most of the supporters of the ban are from away. They’re not from Damariscotta,” resident Elizabeth Printy said Wednesday. “Some represent nonprofit environmental groups, and in both cases, they don’t pay taxes here.”
“Should people from Newcastle, Bristol, South Bristol, Nobleboro tell the citizens of Damariscotta how to govern?” she said. “If they own a business here, fine.”
“It makes me sad to hear the comments here tonight about such suspicion of other citizens, because I think people that work on this particular issue from the nonprofit side, their hearts are in the right place, they want to share what they know,” part-time South Bristol resident Debbie Welles said. “I think we’d be wise to listen carefully to what people are starting to say. The people that are speaking up may be a little bit ahead of their time, but I think we’re being forewarned.”
“I oppose this as written, however, we would support a plastic bag ordinance,” Jane Gravel said. Gravel and her husband own Main Street Grocery, Supplies Unlimited, Oliver’s Print Shop, and Hilltop Stop.
Gravel said switching from plastic bags to paper would cost her grocery store around $5,600 a year, but she would not oppose it if residents vote in favor of the ordinance.
Gravel said her issue with the ordinance is the ban on polystyrene foam containers. Main Street Grocery uses Styrofoam containers to package its meat.
Gravel said a foam container the store uses to package chicken costs 3.3 cents. A non-foam alternative costs 12 cents. The store cannot take a $40,000 hit, she said.
“I feel like this will also make Damariscotta a very unfriendly business town,” she said. “If you don’t want the big box, you’ve got to do something to help the small businesses. You can’t have it both ways.”
“It’s been well-documented that the plastics in our environment are hurting marine life,” resident Christine Szalay said.
Szalay said other towns in the area, such as Bath, have passed similar ordinances. “All of the businesses have survived and done fine, in fact, a lot of them have welcomed the opportunity to do this and to contribute to the environmental cause,” she said.
Resident Alan Bebout said he has spoken with local fishermen about plastic in the water, and an oysterman told him “there is no problem.”
“I have found no evidence in support of the claim made in the ordinance that it will protect the local fishing and shellfish industries,” he said. “Plastic bags are an environmental non-problem locally.”
“I wondered if the town might be opening itself to a class-action lawsuit by using false claims to sell the public this ordinance,” Bebout said.
Newcastle resident Thomas Young-Bayer, who has worked as a marine biologist and on fishing boats, said plastic is mostly seen miles offshore due to currents, not along the coast where most local fishermen are working.
“You can really easily get misleading information about what’s happening with plastics just by talking to people who are close to the coast,” he said.
“Plastic bags are a good and an easy and an economical and a well-demonstrated way to start addressing this issue,” he said.
“I’m very much in support of this ordinance,” said Eleanor Kinney, who lives in Bremen but owns a building on Main Street where she intends to open a restaurant.
She said she has been doing beach cleanups this summer, and has seen a lot of Styrofoam cups and plastic.
“Damariscotta is a service center,” she said. “The economy is entirely dependent on people from the region, so I don’t feel like this is from away versus residents. Residents are going to have the choice to vote on the ordinance, so they will have the say, but as the service center for a larger community, it affects all of us.”
“It’s been documented that we already have (microplastics) in the Gulf of Maine and in the Damariscotta River,” resident Andrea Keushguerian said. “For the good of our community, we need to be looking at all of these issues.”
Jigger Clark, owner of Clark Farms, asked the selectmen who wrote the ordinance.
Selectman Amy Leshure said she did, with help from the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
After the public hearing, the selectmen discussed whether to put the ordinance on the Nov. 6 ballot for voters’ consideration.
Chair Robin Mayer was in attendance through a video feed, due to being in Arkansas on business. Selectman Ronn Orenstein was unable to attend the meeting.
Mayer said that after listening to many people who are against the ordinance, she could not support it.
“Believe me, Amy, I commend all of the work that you’ve done,” Mayer said.
“I don’t believe that shifting a material that holds a good is going to put anyone out of business. No one in Maine has gone out of business because their town passed a plastic-bag ban,” Leshure said. “I don’t think it’s a lot to ask. As a service center, I think we owe it to our citizens and our future generations to just take this small step.”
Selectman Louis Abbotoni said he could not support the ordinance because change needs to come from the manufacturers at a national level.
“As far as I’m concerned, this ordinance does nothing except make people feel good,” Abbotoni said.
“I’m for letting the voter decide on this in November,” Selectman Mark Hagar said.
The selectmen voted 2-2 to put the ordinance on the ballot, meaning the motion failed. Leshure asked the selectmen if any changes to the ordinance would change their minds.
Mayer said that after listening to local businesses, she could not support the ordinance while it bans polystyrene containers.
The selectmen then voted 3-1, with Abbotoni saying he could not support the ordinance either way, to remove all mention of banning polystyrene containers.
Due to the change, the town will hold a third public hearing on the ordinance at the town office at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 4.