Planning Board drafts plastic bag memo

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 8:45am

In order for the Town Council to make its final decision on the plastic bag ordinance, which it passed unanimously on Nov. 15, the New Shoreham Planning Board had earlier sent a memorandum to the Town Council that included answers to frequently asked questions concerning the banning of plastic bags on Block Island. 

At the board’s Nov. 8 meeting, Town Planner Alison Ring said the memo she drafted was based on discussions by board members, and concerns from the public and the Council. Topics include: the purpose and benefit of having an ordinance for the banning of single-use plastic bags, which is to reduce litter and the environmental impact; why the recycling of plastic bags is not the solution; that businesses are permitted to charge for biodegradable paper bags; that the ordinance should go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, and be enforced by the Town Manager, and punishable by fine, or imprisonment.

For the past 13 months the Planning Board has made the banning of plastic bags a priority. 

Ring and the board noted that they are trying to follow the lead of other communities, like Barrington, Jamestown, Newport, and Middletown, which have already implemented bans. Her memo asserts that it would be “one small step towards making a difference.”

Ring said she shopped “on Aquidneck Island last week, and noticed that the stores were issuing paper bags, and reusable bags. They were doing reusable bag giveaways. So it was interesting to see how it was working.”

“Did you see any pitchforks, or torches in the streets?” joked board member Sam Bird.

“No,” said Ring, who noted that “most citizens understand the negative impact of plastics, specifically single-use plastic bags, on our environment.” Her memo states that “education and awareness campaigns” will be valuable after adoption of the ordinance and encouraged by the Planning Board. 

As for enforcement, Ring said the ordinance could be enforced by the “the New Shoreham Police Department, or any other town department, that is designated by the Town Manager.” She said her memo includes “establishing actual penalties for violations.”

“Should you clarify that each bag is a separate violation?” asked John Spier, whose comment elicited laughter among the board members.

“No,” said Ring, noting that other communities “issued a notice of violation first, and after that 14-day notice period, a fine of $150 per violation.” Ring said the penalties would include a “$300 per day” fine for subsequent violations of the ordinance. 

The memo notes that Barrington, Jamestown and Middletown give 14-day notice, and then charge an initial fine of $150, and $300 per day afterwards. Newport has instituted a fine of up to $1,000.

Ring said the ordinance would be “effective upon passage” by the Town Council. The memo states that it could be “enacted with a delayed enforcement date if the Town Council chooses.”

Coast Guard Station

The Planning Board discussed possible options concerning future use of the Coast Guard Station with members of the community. The Coast Guard Station is in need of refurbishment.

Resident Bob Greenlee, who lives near the Coast Guard Station, presented “an example of a non-profit that might show interest in sharing the Coast Guard compound, if the appropriate town support was provided.” He said that the New England Science and Sailing Foundation located in Stonington, Connecticut was interested in using the facility.

Greenlee said NESS “is a year-round, non-profit 501(c)3 ocean adventure program that engages students” in a marine learning environment, sailing instruction, etc., and teaches “responsibility for the sea.” He said that they have successful fundraising campaigns, and “some deep-pocketed people.”

“They wondered what this would involve financially, and time-wise,” said Greenlee. “I told them it could involve use of a portion of the building.” He noted that “several different concerns” could exist in the large building.

Resident Pete Tweedy, who lives near Cormorant Cove, said he spoke with representatives from the University of Rhode Island and Roger Williams University about the facility. “Both have shown significant interest in hosting educational programs out here, for their students, and our school students,” he said. “They said this is such an ideal place to teach marine biology, aquaculture and oceanography.”

“This is a great opportunity,” said Tweedy. “I think there are a lot of options that we should be exploring” for year-round use of the compound. “It would be great for the island.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, Greenlee remarked that, “If they can move the Southeast Lighthouse back, then they can fix up the Coast Guard Station.”

“It’s certainly on our radar,” said Spier, who noted that he could see the facility being used to “create a world-class campus for studying sea-level rise, climate change, etc. The devil is in the details. We need to get some revenue to maintain that property.”

“These are some good ideas,” said Comings. “We’ll certainly keep them on our list. This is an ongoing project.”