Blue Hill voters ban plastic bags, Styrofoam



East Blue Hill resident and Ellsworth attorney Eric Columber argues against a proposed ordinance banning plastic bags at businesses. His wife, Kelley (right), listens.
PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

BLUE HILL — Plastic bags no longer are allowed at Blue Hill businesses. No more Styrofoam containers, either.

Voters at the annual Town Meeting Saturday overwhelmingly approved ordinances banning both after extensive debate.

The ordinance to ban plastic bags was passed 139-56.

Proponents discussed health and environmental issues.

Resident Jane Haldane said plastics “degrade” down to particles that resemble plankton, which the fish eat.

“We’re absorbing it into our bodies,” Haldane said. “It’s scary as heck.”

Merrill & Hinckley general store owner and former Selectman John Bannister said paper bags are more expensive than plastic, take up a great deal more space and take nearly as long to decompose as plastic does.

“The real hurt would actually come down on older people,” Bannister said. “Older people want something with handles.”

Bannister recalled one of his older customers who is a “diehard recycler” and usually brings her own bags. She forgot them one day and asked for plastic because holding a paper bag full of groceries was difficult for her.

Others thought the ordinance needed more discussion beyond one on a day with a full town meeting agenda.

“This, I think, needs more thought,” said former Fire Chief Denny Robertson.

Another resident said, “I agree with Denny. There’s too much information today. It’s a public health issue. We have to weigh small business interests. We have to weight fisheries’ interests. I would like to see plastic bags go away, but I don’t think that’s a decision for today.”

“I’m against the ordinance as it’s drafted,” said East Blue Hill resident and attorney Eric Columber, who owns Columber Law in Ellsworth. “It kicks the can to the CEO [code enforcement officer] or her designee. You’re suddenly going to make the CEO the plastic bag cop. The day-to-day enforcement of this puts a burden on the CEO. You’ll see a cost of enforcing this, maybe that’s OK.”

The plastic bag ban will not take effect immediately.

Selectman Jim Schatz said Monday it would be a few months before it takes effect. The town wants to give businesses time to deplete their plastic bag inventories.

In related business, voters also approved an ordinance banning all polystyrene containers in town. Those include Styrofoam restaurant takeout containers and the Styrofoam container that holds packaged meat.

That vote was 138-15.

Bannister, who sells ground beef, poultry and other meat in his store, spoke against the ordinance banning polystyrene.

“Feel-good legislation” was how Bannister described the ordinance. “Sixty percent of the grocery business in Blue Hill” is going to Ellsworth businesses.

“Trying to package up chicken and beef and trying to put them on paper pulp trays is impossible,” Bannister said. “The stuff doesn’t last as long and it costs three times as much.”

Moderator Scott Miller pauses during the Blue Hill Annual Town Meeting held Saturday at the Consolidated School.
PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

Bannister said Blue Hill is a town “struggling to fill empty storefronts.” The ordinances aren’t helping.

In other business, revisions to the town’s mobile vending ordinance were approved 129-48 despite urging from local business owners that this wasn’t the time to encourage food trucks and other mobile businesses to come to Blue Hill.

Business owners are concerned about mobile vendors taking sales away from those who operate storefronts and pay property taxes.

Selectman Ellen Best said the town hadn’t had any mobile vendors since the ordinance was changed in 2006. Those changes required mobile vendors to inform Blue Hill by Dec. 31 that they would want to do business the following year. The prospective vendors also had to obtain permission at the annual town meeting.

Vendors will now need to obtain a permit from selectmen outlining proposed location and hours among other details.

“It’s actually a little more structured than the other one was,” Best said.

Bill Fletcher, who is opening a restaurant downtown with his wife, Sandy, said he can’t vote on the ordinance because he resides in another town but “I’ve voted in a big way with my life savings.”

Fletcher said he thought the ordinance was a bit “slap-dash.” It allows any trucks to locate on any public property seven days a week.

“The ordinance does significantly affect local business,” Fletcher said.

Mike Astbury, who owns M.E. Astbury & Son Construction Co., cited safety issues with mobile vendors, such as food trucks.

Astbury was road commissioner before 2006 and took a lot of complaints that the trucks were taking up parking spaces, which are already limited.

“I think mobile vending on Main Street is very dangerous,” Astbury said.

David Caplan, who owns The Meadow with his wife, Karen Brandenburg, also spoke against the ordinance.

“We have a large mortgage and we pay a lot of property taxes,” Caplan said.

Allowing mobile businesses to compete with stores that operate year-round in Blue Hill “doesn’t add up to me,” Caplan said. “If the town grew to 100,000, I could see a food truck in the park. I don’t think we need food trucks at all right now when we’ve got struggling businesses and empty storefronts.”

Resident Lynne Cheney said she missed a fish truck that once operated downtown.

“I think anything that can bring vitality to our mix would enhance downtown,” Cheney said.

In town elections, Selectman Vaughn Leach, who ran uncontested, was re-elected to a three-year term with 286 votes.

In a contested race for two seats on the School Board, Candace Gray was elected with 213 votes and Tina Allen was elected with 183 votes. Incumbent Ben Wootten received 166 votes.

Mary Alice Hurvitt was elected to the Planning Board with 267 votes.

Road Commissioner Bill Cousins was re-elected with 283 votes.

In spending articles, voters approved a municipal budget of $2,858,838. That’s roughly a 2 percent increase in spending over the current budget, according to Schatz.

Voters approved an education budget totaling $5,903,995.97.

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