WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro vetoed a resolution Friday that would place a proposed ban on plastic bags at large retail stores on November’s election ballot, saying “overriding individual choice in how residents bag their groceries strays” from the mission of local government.

In his statement vetoing the resolution, Isgro warned that a referendum over the bag ban would invite special interest groups and “dark money funded influence peddlers” into Waterville as well as further divide the community.

On Monday, the council voted 4-1 to put the proposed plastic bag ordinance before voters in the Nov. 6 election. The ordinance would ban retail stores of more than 10,000 square feet from distributing plastic shopping bags within city limits.

The drive to get the question on the ballot was spearheaded by the Sustain Mid-Maine Coalition, a Waterville-based nonprofit focused on sustainability and clean energy use.

City Manager Mike Roy said the question of whether the council will override the veto will be on the agenda at the next City Council meeting. He said there still would be time to put the question on November’s ballot, despite the veto.

Isgro did not respond Saturday evening to a phone call seeking comment.

In his veto statement, Isgro wrote that “reusable plastic bags make up only 0.5 percent of the municipal waste stream nationwide,” but he did not say where the statistic comes from.

According to the coalition, the average American uses 150 plastic shopping bags per year. Only about 5 percent of bags are recycled, it says.

He also wrote that Roy had asked a member of Sustain Mid-Maine to postpone their resolution “because in (Roy’s) estimation pushing a ban on reusable bags … would add further division to our community rather than assist us in refocusing our effrts on our continuted downtown revitalization, job growth, and budgetary issues.”

“I commend Mr. Roy,” Isgro wrote, “for understanding the effect that hot-topic national issues have when pushed into municipal politics and agree with him.”

Roy said Saturday that Isgro’s statement in his veto memorandum was not accurate.

“All I did was ask them to delay a meeting or two,” Roy said, adding that he wanted a little bit of distance between the tension surrounding some residents’ unsuccessful effort to overturn the municipal budget and the bag ban proposal, as he knew it also would be controversial.

“(The coalition) chose to come early, which was fine,” he said. “We have to face the question at some point, whether it’s now or in September. It isn’t going away.”

Isgro also claimed that the coalition might use “outside influence to fund propaganda against reusable bags.”

“In recent years outside special interest groups, lobbyists, and dark money funded influence peddlers have spent hundreds of millions trying to influence Maine public policy,” Isgro wrote. “Finding their successes often stifled by Maine people who reject such outside influence on our way of life, it seems they have now begun to target municipalities that they perceive as easier and cheaper to promote their agenda in.”

Earlier this year, Isgro also claimed that so-called “dark money” was funding the recall campaign to remove him as mayor.

Additionally, Isgro said if the referendum was successful, he claimed Sustain Mid-Maine also would target takeout containers, plastic straws and paper bags as other items to ban.

“While taking the straw from a child’s milkshake may seem like an important effort to West Coast cosmopolitans, in Waterville, Maine it is a distraction and a stumbling block to progress,” he wrote.

Earlier in the week, Isgro criticized the council for passing the resolution, posting on his Facebook page that he was “saddened by the misplaced priorities of the council.”

The post stated the council has been spending too much time on the proposed ban to the detriment of more important issues facing the city, such as the opioid crisis and homelessness.

Councilors pushed back on the post, saying the vote is about giving residents a say in the decision.

If the council chooses to override Isgro’s veto and voters approve the ban on plastic bags, Waterville would join several Maine municipalities that already have adopted ordinances regulating the use of either plastic bags or polystyrene food containers, or both.

Last year, state lawmakers also looked at a bill that would prohibit retailers from bagging products in single-use plastic bags starting in 2020.

The bill passed in the House and the Senate, but Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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